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Reporting from the St. George area focused on local government, public lands and the environment, indigenous issues and faith and spirituality.

Utah Legislature votes to drop Dixie in favor of Utah Tech University

The Dixie name change is a hotly debated topic in southwest Utah. Those for and against the change protested at the Utah Capitol on Tuesday before a legislative public hearing.
Emily Means
The Dixie name change is a hotly debated topic in southwest Utah. Those for and against the change protested at the Utah Capitol on Tuesday before a legislative public hearing.

The Utah Legislature voted Wednesday evening to dump Dixie, opting for the new name Utah Tech University. The House voted 56-15 in favor of the change. The Senate passed the measure 17-12.

Many legislators defended their decision saying they voted in favor of a new name because of university branding and helping it grow toward its polytechnic vision — not necessarily because of the word Dixie’s ties to the confederacy.

“This is not cancel culture, we are empowering the institution,” said Sen. Mike McKell, R-Spanish Fork, a sponsor of the bill.

The bill to rename the school was amended in the House to designate the main campus as the “Dixie Campus,” for at least 20 years. Rep. Lowry Snow, R-St. George, called it a compromise. He and Rep. Brad Last, R-Hurricane, were the only two southwest Utah legislators to vote for the change.

Snow said it was a hard decision for him to go against some of his friends and neighbors’ wishes.

“I believe that this institution that we currently call Dixie State University has a destiny, and I believe we have seen the vision of what it can be, not just for southern Utah, but for our state to have a full fledged tech university,” he said. “It's going to provide great opportunities for our children and our grandchildren.”

The latest debate started almost a year ago when the DSU’s Board of Trustees unanimously voted to recommend a name change. University officials argue the current name doesn’t fit their strategic branding and it impacts students — from recruiting to graduates looking for jobs.

The name change stalled in the Senate last year before a bill setting up a months-long process passed. It required the university to establish a name recommendation committee to hold focus groups and come up with a potential new name. Also, money was set aside to create a Heritage Committee to preserve the history and culture of the area on campus.

Originally the group recommended Utah Polytechnic State University, however after feedback from the community they landed on Utah Tech.

Multiple students attended the legislative committee hearing on Tuesday, some in support of the name change and others against it. Morgan Olson, a student at DSU and former Miss Dixie, said the name has evolved.

“The Dixie State name change isn't an issue of us looking at history with a sense of presentism,” Olson said. “We aren't trying to change our history, nor bury it under the rug, but instead we hope to move on from the mistakes we've made to continue to blaze a trail that will lead to success, inclusivity and promote what we all know our community is.”

Several local business leaders also attended the hearing and spoke in favor of removing the name Dixie. They wanted Utah Tech because they said it’ll help them be able to recruit more talented and diverse candidates to their companies.

The name change has been a hotly debated topic for many southwest Utah residents, and some of them went to the Capitol on Tuesday for the Legislature’s public hearing.

“It really is part of our identity and who we are,” said Brad Bennett, a member of the group Defending Southwestern Utah Heritage Coalition. “Trying to remove the word Dixie from this university or any institution in southern Utah is literally like asking someone to change their last name because a handful of people who don't understand it want to cancel it.”

Abraham Thiombiano, a DSU graduate, said the term Dixie is warm and welcoming.

“The name Dixie is not offensive to most of the individuals of different ethnicities that I have talked to across the entire nation — [and] it's not because they're ignorant,” he said at the hearing. “The basis of Dixie is a geographic region, the south. That's genuinely just it.”

It’s now on to Gov. Spencer Cox to sign. If he does, the name change will go into effect July 1, 2022.

Lexi is KUER's Southwest Bureau reporter
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