SALT LAKE CITY — The bill to change the name of Dixie State University passed in the Utah House of Representatives after a heated debate.
In a 51-20 vote, House Bill 278 passed and now heads to the Senate. The bill begins a public process for Dixie State University to be renamed, permanently removing "Dixie."
"As an institution evolves, it should adopt a name that most fully and clearly communicates its most current and emerging mission," said bill sponsor Rep. Kelly Miles, R-Ogden.
Critics contend the Dixie name still is tied to the Civil War confederacy, pointing to the university's past use of a confederate general mascot, a statute of confederate soldiers on campus, and yearbook photos that showed the confederate flag and students in blackface.
Dixie State's own Board of Trustees, student body association and the Utah Board of Higher Education voted unanimously to dump the "Dixie" name. They have argued the name is starting to impact recruitment and retention of students and faculty from outside Utah.
But supporters of the name say it has connotations with the Latter-day Saint pioneers who settled in the St. George area, where there was a warmer climate. Lawmakers, most from southern Utah, pushed back on the name change.
"Dixie is not a racist name," insisted Rep. Rex Shipp, R-Cedar City. "Many people try to relate it to that."
Rep. Walt Brooks, R-St. George, vigorously opposed the name change and said southern Utah was welcoming to all.
"What we’re doing is getting into the cancel culture," he told his House colleagues. "You know we have a name here that actually does have a negative perception on us if you get a degree here and go outside the state. It’s called BYU."
Rep. Travis Seegmiller, R-St. George, introduced a motion to gut the bill by removing a provision that demands any future name not have the word "Dixie" in it. The motion failed on a voice vote.
"It’s unfortunate that in the '50s, '60s and '70s, the university embraced the iconography of the South. But they did, and that means the term is loaded in a way than is used in the other context," Rep. Timothy Hawkes, R-Centerville, said as he urged support for the bill.
While the bill had a wide margin of support in the House of Representatives, any vote in the Senate is predicted to be much closer.