SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4 News) — A Utah lawmaker has introduced a bill to change the name of Dixie State University. While many want to honor Utah’s “Dixie Spirit,” university officials reiterate they can’t move past the name’s association with the Confederacy that harms the institution.
If passed, House Bill 278, sponsored by Rep. Kelly Miles, R-Ogden, would require the university’s new name to drop the term “Dixie.” Lawmakers on Capitol Hill say they have a “contentious” process ahead as they determine what’s in the best interest of students at Dixie State University.
“We have a great love for southern Utah and Dixie State University, but we’re looking at it as a whole of what’s in the best interest of the students,” Miles said. “The primary charge is to help educate and place students into the workforce, and I think all of this distraction with the name is coming between that.”
Rep. Miles, who chairs the Higher Education Appropriations Committee, says there is a lot of support for the name change in the House of Representatives but admits the vote will be closer in the Senate.
At this point in the legislative process, the Rules Committee of the Utah House of Representatives has assigned the bill to the Education standing committee, which is expected to address the bill Wednesday afternoon, according to Miles. The bill would then move to a vote on the House floor, which could occur as soon as the end of the week, before moving onto the Senate.
“This has been a polarizing and contentious issue. I hate that it has to be that way,” Miles said. “There’s definitely mixed feelings. By all means, it’s going to be a difficult vote, and you can certainly see both sides of the argument.”
A final vote on the bill is anticipated in the next two to three weeks, he said.
University officials say they must be attentive to the current dialogue about racial symbols and terms, pleading with lawmakers to back the name change and put students first.
“We need to move this forward,” DSU President Richard Williams tells ABC4 News. “We want to continue to have a great relationship with our community, and we hope that they’ll realize that the real purpose around this is to serve our students.”
According to the Cicero group impact study, 22% of recent DSU graduates seeking work outside of Utah had potential employers express concern over “Dixie” on their resume. The study also showed that the vast majority of southwestern Utah’s general population clearly favors keeping the “Dixie” name and is unlikely to be swayed, as displayed in a recent panel discussion regarding the name held by the university’s Institute of Politics late last month. Locals have protested the name change for months, calling it an effort to “erase history.”
“We should not be taking an action that is stepping away from the community,” local attorney Tim Anderson said in the panel. “I think it’s an unnecessary, self-inflicted wound.”
If passed, the bill would ask the university to consider the area’s pioneering spirit and grit when choosing a new name, according to Miles. The bill also states that the new name must be recommended to the Utah legislature by Nov. 1.
“I understand the pressure on legislators in southern Utah and the concerns and frustrations,” Miles said. “We hope to be able to make this a win-win situation by getting everyone together and coming up with something that really benefits the state as a whole and our students.”