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Professor Revives Discussion About Dixie State Name

Whittney Evans

A Dixie State University professor is calling on university officials to reconsider changing the name of the school in light of a recent national debate over the use of Confederate symbols.

Dannelle Larsen-Rife is an assistant professor of psychology at Dixie State University. She published an editorial in The Spectrum newspaper on Monday asking Utah to consider its unfortunate association with the Confederate South in the wake of the mass shooting at a mostly black South Carolina Church last month.

“The southern states and other universities who have confederacy symbols in their public institutions have reconsidered and they’ve come to understand that it’s not in anybody’s best interest to be associated with symbols of hate and hate crimes,” Larsen-Rife says.

She adds the name Dixie has been an obstacle in her efforts to recruit highly qualified faculty from out of state. In 2013, officials considered changing the name as the school gained University status. 

The St. George area was nicknamed Utah’s Dixie after Brigham Young sent settlers there in the 19th century to attempt to grow cotton and tobacco in the desert climate. Over the years, Dixie State University adopted a Confederate South identity, using “rebels” as its mascot and displaying confederate flags. Students are also pictured in old yearbooks wearing black face and holding mock slave auctions. 

Steve Johnson is a spokesman for the University.

“We do have that confederate history, but we have done a lot of things over the last two decades to move forward, turn the page and move forward as Utah’s newest university,” Johnson says.

The school began retiring its confederate identity in the mid-nineties. It dropped its use of the “rebel” nickname and discontinued using confederate flags. In January this year, a statue of two confederate soldiers was removed from campus.

Johnson says the university’s new president has kicked off a strategic plan to reshape the university. But he says the plan doesn’t include renaming the school. 

Whittney Evans grew up southern Ohio and has worked in public radio since 2005. She has a communications degree from Morehead State University in Morehead, Kentucky, where she learned the ropes of reporting, producing and hosting. Whittney moved to Utah in 2009 where she became a reporter, producer and morning host at KCPW. Her reporting ranges from the hyper-local issues affecting Salt Lake City residents, to state-wide issues of national interest. Outside of work, she enjoys playing the guitar and getting to know the breathtaking landscape of the Mountain West.
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