Petition Closed

The name Dixie was used by some of the original settlers who were former slave owners. The college has identified with the Confederate South for over 100 years, including regularly flying the Confederate flag, holding mock slave auctions (as recently as the 1990s), students appearing in black face (as recently as October, 2012), and there is a statue of Confederate Soldiers with a Confederate flag currently on campus. As the college becomes a university early next year, it is time to cut all ties with the identity of the Confederate South to promote and support diversity on campus.

Letter to
c/o Brody Mikesell Dixie State College Trustees
Utah Board of Regents
Southern Utah Anti-Discrimination Coalition
Dear Senators, Representatives, Regents and The Honorable Gary Herbert:

The Dixie State College Trustees recently voted to change the name of the college to Dixie State University in their bid for University status. However, it should be noted that the Trustees’ selection of that name was based on inaccurate conclusions about the Sorenson survey. Steven G. Caplin, Chair of the Trustees specifically stated that 83% of stakeholders supported the name “Dixie State University.” He is mistaken. Review of the Sorenson report (http://www.dixie.edu/namechange/File/DSC-Research-Report-January-9-2013.pdf) reveals that 83.3% of Alumni said that “Dixie” should be part of the name. Coincidentally, only 27% of Alumni said that Utah should be part of the name.

What the Trustees overlooked was that 40.4% of faculty/staff (non-Alumni) said that “Dixie” should not be part of the name and 43.3% of faculty/staff (non-Alumni) said Utah should be part of the name.

More importantly, approximately half of all of those who participated said that St. George “could be” part of the name (42.8% of students, 46.2% of faculty/staff (non-Alumni), 43.5% of faculty/staff (Alumni), 48.3% of Alumni, 50.8% of community members, and 45.8% of others. The terms “Utah” and State” had similar ratings for terms that could be part of the name. In order to choose the most appropriate name, these are the results that should be considered, rather than a popularity vote that could not be won by a relatively small number of non-Alumni under any circumstance.

Despite the findings of the Sorenson report that if the school wants a national focus, it should be named St. George University, it should also be noted that President Nadauld stated on the very same day he supported “Dixie State University” and the Trustees endorsed the name:

"Nadauld noted that enrollment is down 3 to 4 percent over last spring, and said the school has been affected by the improving economy as well as by the age change for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints missionaries. But Dixie hopes to attract an increasing number of international and out-of-state students who pay higher tuition than in-state students, he said."

The Sorenson report also states, “If the university intends to capitalize on its university status and have a large a role in the national stage, then a name for consideration would be “St. George University” (or University of St. George)." (pg. 52) and

“If the institution is to remain largely local in its appeal there is a stronger argument for keeping the name Dixie. If however, if long-term plans are to appeal to a much greater number of non-local students the opposite may be true." (pg. 54)

Importantly, as has been documented by the media, the St. George area was nicknamed “Dixie” because many of the original settlers in the area used the nickname “Dixie” for the region as they were from the South and were steeped in the lore of cotton, including former slave owners and drivers. For many in the area, the “Dixie” name is a reminder of their heritage and tradition, which is honored on campus by the names of virtually all buildings on campus, the Encampment Mall, and many pictures and statues.

“Dixie” would be an acceptable nickname for the University if the alumni want to continue this tradition and honor their heritage. It is not a suitable name for a University seeking to fulfill its mission to “enhance[s] its campus climate by promoting cultural and demographic diversity,” and “make responsible and meaningful contributions to society.”

A Google search of the word “Dixie” brings up the strong association with the Confederate South and related images. Furthermore, Dixie is not the official name of the region. The University should not be named for a local nickname that has strong negative connotations throughout the country. The word does not bring national respect to the institution, its faculty, students or the community. Indeed, the Chronicle of Higher Education and Inside Higher Ed have carried articles on the “Dixie” name debate which do not bring honor to the institution or the state because of the name selected.

The Trustees acknowledged that Dixie State College had a strong association with the Confederate South from the 1950s through 2012, which represents more than half the history of the college, with images of the Confederate flag documented in The Confederate yearbook through 1993, students appearing in blackface, dressed as Native Americans or Egyptians on campus through 1993, the Rebel mascot through 2008 and the Confederate statue through 2012. However, they deny these acts were “racial discrimination.”

Moreover, in this debate, the President of the college suggested that minority faculty and students are vandals. The administration also denies the experience of two minority faculty members who resigned due to continual racial discrimination in the past two years.

As long as the name “Dixie” continues at the college/university, this history will have to be explained to future students, faculty, employers, conference attendees, and graduate admissions committees. In addition, the name selected by the Trustees omits the generous contribution of the State of Utah, without which the college would not exist.

The name University of St. George, Utah needs no explanation, is supported by the Sorenson survey and pays tribute to the original settlers who named this city St. George.

Therefore, I respectfully request that you consider University of St. George, Utah as an appropriate name for Dixie State College as it becomes a University.


Our original request:

We are writing to express our views regarding the name change of Dixie State College as it becomes a University. We strongly oppose any variant that includes “Dixie.” The primary reason has to do with the negative connotations of the term “Dixie” and the psychology of identity and marginalization.

For many in our community, the name Dixie is a link to a personal heritage reflected in this institution’s roots in early Mormon pioneer history. This helps facilitate a strong bond between one’s personal identity and the college. However, a growing number of students, faculty, staff, and community members are detached from this pioneer heritage and as a result are less likely to incorporate the college identity into their personal identity. This may limit our ability to recruit and retain dynamic and talented students and faculty, in turn reducing institutional growth and vitality.

Importantly, in many people’s minds (including some whose heritage lies in the region) the term Dixie conjures not positive emotion, but rather negative emotion or ambivalence. The most common source of negativity is the association between the term “Dixie” and the Confederate Southern United States. Some deny any connection to the Confederate Southern United States and others claim that this association is irrelevant to the naming debate. We vehemently disagree. The root of the term’s place in Southern culture is fairly clear. The song “I Wish I Was in Dixie” written in the 1850s for use in a traveling blackface minstrel show, became the unofficial anthem of the Confederacy.1 In May 1861 Confederate Henry Hotze wrote:

It is marvelous with what wild-fire rapidity this tune "Dixie" has spread over the whole South. Considered as an intolerable nuisance when first the streets re-echoed it from the repertoire of wandering minstrels, it now bids fair to become the musical symbol of a new nationality, and we shall be fortunate if it does not impose its very name on our country.2

The term “Dixie” did come to symbolize the Confederate South, and to this day, many people associate the term “Dixie” with a Southern cultural heritage that includes negative racial attitudes and the institution of slavery. Indeed, research suggests that the collective identity of the South was

exceptional in its fierce commitment to slavery, in its failed experiment with secession and nationhood, in its military defeat and occupation by a conquering power, in its poverty, cultural backwardness, and religiosity, and in its pervasive, prolonged resistance to racial justice.3

In former DSC faculty, Andrew Larson’s4 text on the history of the name “Dixie” in Utah, the first President of the Washington Stake in 1857, was Robert Dockery Covington, a slave overseer and slave owner from North Carolina and Mississippi. Larson states

Already the settled area of the Virgin Valley was being called Utah’s “Dixie.” The fact that cotton would grow there, as well as tobacco and other semi-tropical plants such as the South produced made it easy for the name to stick. The fact that the settlers at Washington were bona fide Southerners who were steeped in the lore of cotton culture—many of them, at least—clinched the title. Dixie it became, and Dixie it remained. . . . The name “Dixie” is one of those distinctive things about this part of Utah . . . It is a proud title. (p. 185) [Emphasis in original]

We believe that black-face minstrel shows (as recently as October 2012), mock slave auctions (as recently as the early 1990s), Confederate flags (throughout DSC history and continuing to the present, please see attached image), and numerous other associations to the Confederacy prevalent on this campus (The “Rebel” mascot as recently as 2008, True Rebel Night is ongoing; The Dixie Confederate Yearbook into the 1990s) in the past and at present reflect a direct and continuing association between the Confederate South and Dixie State College (please see attached images from campus and yearbooks).

As such, we cannot, in good faith, make a clear moral distinction between these reprehensible events and associations and the name “Dixie.” Thus we feel strongly that further distancing the college from the Confederate identity of the past, is, on principle, the right thing to do. A lack of shared meaning and opposing emotional connotations toward “Dixie,” sets the conditions for marginalization and division. Consider the following component of our mission statement: “Dixie State College enhances its campus climate by promoting cultural and demographic diversity.” It seems disingenuous to make this claim when the very name/identity we present to the community and, in fact, the world suggests something very different to many of those same individuals. If there is but a single institution in this community obligated to reducing the marginalization of others, it is ours. We believe we are more likely to meet this obligation if we leave the name “Dixie” behind.

Researchers find there are political and economic implications for maintaining connection to the collective identity of the Old South for “risk of alienating much of the population.”5 Thus, the use of Dixie is declining the in the Southern United States. Similarly when “Dixie Airlines” was purchased by a prominent local citizen and descendant of Mormon pioneers, Ralph Atkin, in 1972, he renamed the airline SkyWest Airlines6.

We recognize and applaud the commitment the community has shown to the college over the years, especially early contributions that sustained the college as it transitioned from an LDS Academy to a State institution. There is certainly a spirit of overcoming adversity and a strong sense of community among alumni. It is important for these positive characteristics to continue as the college undergoes another major transition. It is imperative that the name of the institution not serve to undermine the tremendous commitment of alumni and the community with a strong negative connotation that is arguably counter to what the alumni and community stand for. Consequently, we believe that by associating our institution with our city’s name or the State of Utah, and thus an easily identifiable location, we capitalize on the positive reputation St. George enjoys: a gateway to Zion, a golfer’s paradise, a great place to retire, a top spot to do business, and so on.

In closing, we respectfully encourage you to retire the Dixie name from the college, as we believe this to be in the best long-term interests of our institution, our students and future students and our community. Thank you for your time, consideration, and dedication.