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Dixie State University (Photo: Matt Glade, KSL) Sports
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Renewed Calls To Remove ‘Dixie’ From Southern Utah

ST. GEORGE, Utah – The debate over whether or not to change the name of Dixie State University grew louder Wednesday, amid the country’s renewed focus on racial injustice and the effort to reexamine the nation’s Confederate symbols and monuments.

“Earlier I was pretty oblivious but then finding out it becomes harder and harder to ignore,” said Jordyn Ross, a black woman who grew up in St. George, attended Dixie State University and even worked there for two years.

“Having a name that reminds you that you don’t fit in just made it even harder,” she said. “The name of ‘dixie,’ just after being more educated in what it started out as and the history of it, became like a daily reminder, a daily microaggression that people were holding on to this name in this part of the country that fought to keep people like myself enslaved.”

At the root of the debate is the “regional meaning” of the word versus its historical meaning in America. In a statement about its name released Wednesday, Dixie State University said:

“There is a widely embraced, local sentiment toward the word Dixie that represents the rich pioneering heritage of sacrifice, determination and generosity of our early settlers. The unwavering dedication of our founders and community paved the way to make Dixie State the flourishing University it is today. We respect the regional meaning of Dixie adopted by many, describing the local heritage and honoring the men and women who settled the beautiful St. George area. Additionally, we understand that to many others, the term Dixie stirs negative connotations associated with discrimination and intolerance.

The name “Dixie” has been a part of the school since 1913, around the same time students wrote the word on a large red rock nearby. To change the school’s name would ultimately require the state legislature’s approval.

So, it’s not an arm jerk reaction of making a name change but it will be a process that we get a lot of weight in,” said David Woolstenhulme, commissioner of the Utah System of Higher Education. “What’s most important for me is that we make the best decision for the community and for the students.”

Dixie State officials said there is no “formal process in place” to change the name right now, but “DSU is closely monitoring this situation, actively gathering information and assessing all viable options to ensure our campus is a welcoming environment for all.”

Critics of the name “dixie” weren’t just seeking for a change at the university, but for the removal of the name from St. George, which embraced the name even before the school opened.

“The name dixie didn’t have anything to do with the south,” said Daniel McArthur, who was the mayor of St. George for years. McArthur also graduated from Dixie State College and his great-grandfather was among the first settlers in the region.

“The name dixie to us has always been one of love. One of inclusion,” he said. “I’m not one to try to be contentious about any of this. And people are entitled to their views. But it kind of disturbs me when people move in or others that come in and all the sudden jump in without knowing the history.”

A petition to protect the name had nearly 20,000 signatures Wednesday night. But it’s doing little to silence those who would remove “dixie” from southern Utah.

“I feel like with the name change it would be a step toward that inclusion,” Ross said.

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