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Focus groups recommend dumping 'Dixie' in university name change process

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Posted at 4:18 PM, Jun 06, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-06 20:43:51-04

ST. GEORGE, Utah — Focus groups put together as Dixie State University undergoes a name change process support dropping the name "Dixie."

That's according to a report on the focus group meetings given to the university and made public this week. In fact, the report said, 65% of those who participated backed dumping "Dixie." The focus groups were conducted by Love Communications, a Salt Lake City-based ad and public relations firm.

"Equal passion was expressed by both proponents and opponents of retaining the current name, and yet nearly everyone expressed the same goal – helping the university become nationally regarded while still serving the southern Utah region as an open-enrollment, comprehensive university," the report said, later adding:

"However, based on the community’s support for the term Dixie, we recommend the institution should dedicate additional time to developing ways to honor the region’s history and heritage should the term Dixie be removed from the name."

The university is in the midst of a name change process after the Utah State Legislature passed a bill to allow for it. University officials and some students have argued that the name "Dixie," with connotations to the Civil War Confederacy, are hurting the school's image and recruitment and retention. They also point to the university's own past with Confederate-style mascots and symbolism.

Supporters of the name argue it has a different meaning in southwestern Utah, where it's tied to Mormon pioneers who settled in the area to grow cotton. Focus group opinions on "Dixie" range from fervently in support of the name to passionately opposed.

“We have over a hundred years of history and no one has ever said it was a problem," said one comment of a focus group participant.

Said another: “The name change discussion is giving legitimacy to the idea that the word Dixie is racist.”

“This is all just a reaction to cancel culture," added another.

While another said: "The moment my friend took Dixie off his resume, he got three times the interviews."

"When the community, school and students decided it was OK to incorporate racist symbols that’s when it became racist," said another focus group participant in the report.

Added another: "Time to lance the boil and get it over with."

But what to change the name of the university to is still mixed. The groups were given different names under consideration. Utah Polytechnic University had some commenters saying it was "forward looking" while others felt it came across as "too cheap."

Deseret University was hailed for its ties to southern Utah's heritage, but others feared it was too closely tied to one religious group (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints called the territory "Deseret" before Congress made them change it to Utah to get statehood). Another said Deseret "looks like a typo."

Geographic names like Red Cliffs, Red Rock and Desert university got mixed reviews. Love Communications recommended they be dropped from consideration, while names like St. George University, University of St. George or variations of Southwestern Utah State University did a little better.

The legislature's bill ultimately requires a new university name to come to them later this year after a more public vetting. Governor Spencer Cox, who signed the bill to start the name change process, told FOX 13 on the last night of the legislative session that he expected any future name would not have the word "Dixie."