SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – Emotions are high one day after a panel discussed the decision to rename Dixie State University. Many want to stay true to the heritage of Utah’s Dixie, but the name Dixie is hindering the university’s success.
For decades Dixie State University was known as the rebels. The university had the confederate flag on campus. There were slave auctions during homecoming, and their year book was the confederate.
“We did have sayings in those year books like every southerner needs a slave and different things that are pretty hard to swallow in today’s environment,” says DSU President Richard Williams in an exclusive interview with ABC4’s Jason Nguyen.
President Williams says it is hard to overcome the university’s past while trying to build an inclusive environment by today’s standards.
“When they hear about the cotton mission, they are really enthused and are excited about that definition, but when they see some of the things that we did under that confederate ideology, that just doesn’t make sense,” he says. “We are growing out of the regional moniker anyways, and so we are growing up as a University. We probably need a name that’s more robust, that really fits our academic mission.”
The university found one in five graduates have a hard time getting a job because of the Dixie name.
The President adds, “And for us to say, you know we have 4,000 graduates, 22 percent of you are going to have a problem, 50 percent of you are not even going to be able to wear a shirt, that’s problematic.”
To add salt to the wound, the president says the accomplishments students and staff completed is not being recognized nationally.
“What is happening with the name is everyone is focused in on the word Dixie, and they are really not allowing us to tell the active learning active life model,” he says. “They are not allowing us to tell that we built 111,000 programs in the last five years.”
When asked if the president supports the name change he told us, “Yes, absolutely, 100 percent. We took six months, allowed the study to flush out, I didn’t want to make a decision until I saw the data, but after I saw the data it’s clear it’s hurting students. So, yes I’m 100 percent behind it.”
As the university grows into a D1 school, President Williams says the university is having an issue with sponsorships and retailers.
“If people are not going to come sponsor us because we change the name or we don’t change the name; that’s the way we fund athletics, that’s the way we fund auxiliaries, that’s the way we really fund the university. And so, that’s very problematic,” he says. “And when you talk to their marketing they say, ‘you’re one tweet away from really having some issues with your name nationally.’ We just have to act.”
Another issue the university faces comes with the alumni who are ashamed to represent the university and wear apparel outside of the region.
“49 percent were saying, ‘I don’t even wear it in my hometown because it just means something different.’ They love Dixie, they love Saint George, they love the connotations of what it means with pioneering spirit, but the word dixie outside of our area is different and people don’t understand outside of this area,” says President Williams. “Well, it means to me that we have a huge problem because we are trying to build the brand of Dixie State University.”
If legislators approve the name change, the university will take the next three to six months to come up with names to present legislators.
“What we know with a university name, it’s after a founder, after a location, or after what you do, and so we will probably stick to those,” he adds. “We don’t really have a founder, and so it will probably be a location or what we do.”
The University is not advocating for any other businesses to change their names, but he is pleading with State Legislators to back the name change this legislative session and put students first.
“They’re having to explain the name, and as you have heard, Ronald Reagan says, ‘If you’re explaining, you’re losing.’ And our students shouldn’t have to be burdened with explaining the name of their university,” says the President. “We are growing up as a university. It is our future, but we also have a past that we probably need to correct as well.”
President Williams says no one at the university wants to change the name adding, “We love Saint George. We love Utah’s Dixie. We are not trying to strip the area from the heritage. We relish the heritage. We love our community. It’s a great support to our community, but we have found that the word Dixie is an obstacle for our students and for them to be successful.”