Why Dixie State’s name change to Utah Tech University matters

Local News

ST. GEORGE, Utah (ABC4) – All that remains is a signature of approval from Governor Spencer Cox and Dixie State University will be a thing of the past.

After a 17-12 vote in the State Senate, and a 56-15 decision in the House of Representatives in a special session, the finishing touches were given to a motion to change the St. George-based university’s name to Utah Tech University. Gov. Cox’s approval is expected to be the final nail in the coffin of a discussion that has caused some controversy for decades.

According to the university’s official history, the school has carried the term “Dixie” in its name since 1913, which was a result of the community’s use of the word to refer to the southern part of the state. That, however, is undoubtedly tied to the Confederacy’s use of “Dixieland” or “Dixie” as a sentimental nickname for the states that attempted to secede from the United States during the Civil War. This could further be reinforced by the fact that the school’s athletics teams also were known as the Rebels until 2009.

The school has had numerous name switches over the last 100 years and change, and the Dixie moniker has survived changes such as the move to Dixie Normal College in 1916, Dixie Junior College in 1916, Dixie College in 1970, Dixie State College of Utah in 2000, and Dixie State University in 2013.

However, as feelings surrounding the “D-word,” and its connection to the Confederacy, which seceded from the U.S. to continue the use of slavery, have evolved over the years, the school has made incremental changes to distance itself from a name that could be associated with racism. Rebranding the teams from Rebels to the Red Storm and later as Trailblazers in 2016 was the largest example of such an effort until recently.

Throughout the exhaustive process of selecting a new name to finally put the issue to bed, there has been a bit of pushback from some community members of alumni who voiced feelings against a name change.

Why change the name?

The first step the university took in getting serious about changing the name once and for all was figuring out if it was actually an issue. Communication from the school stated it wouldn’t change the name “if the Dixie name wasn’t negatively affecting students’ success or the University’s ability to continue to recruit students.”

After receiving data from a study from Salt Lake City-based consulting firm, Cicero Group, that showed that 22% of alumni have had issues potential with “Dixie” being on their resumes and 42% of respondents in the school’s recruiting region indicating the name having an impact on their interest in the school, the suspicion many had was clear: the name was a problem.

Other factors carried into the decision to carry out what is likely an extremely expensive rebrand. For one, the name didn’t make sense to many folks outside of the state. Utah, of course, which was settled by Mormon pioneers in 1847 and made a state in 1896, was not a part of the 11 states that comprised the Confederacy during the Civil War. In fact, Utah isn’t even very close to the area that most of the country would know as “Dixieland,” which includes Mississippi, South Carolina, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Texas, Virginia, Arkansas, Tennessee, and North Carolina.

For alumni and faculty looking to share their education and work in academics throughout the country, the name was an unwelcome and confusing distraction.

The Dixie name also throws a major obstacle in the university’s efforts to brand its growing athletics program and build a sense of pride and a bit of revenue as well. An unnamed national retailer reportedly informed the university it would not carry or sell any of its merchandise due to the name.

Dixie State University has been growing rapidly over the years, and the school’s leaders feel there was enough evidence to show that the current name would have significantly hindered the growth.

Why did some oppose the name change?

Those who voiced their displeasure at the pending name change, which has been a continual work in progress for the last year and a half, do so because they feel the current name best represents the area and its history. Since the inception of the school over a century ago, major landmarks in the state have followed the love of the Dixie name. The giant hill that overlooks the school has held an enormous letter “D” on it for decades. One of St. George’s local high schools also has a similar name, Dixie High.

Many folks who cherish the tradition of the Dixie moniker have loudly decried the efforts to rebrand the school. A legion of protesters in red shirts reading “KEEP DIXIE” have made a presence at public hearing and showings at the State Capitol. Some have blamed recent buzzwords such as “cancel culture” and “Critical Race Theory” as the primary motives for the change.

All that remains is a signature

At this point, the name change is essentially a done deal. Almost immediately after the passing votes in the special session on Wednesday, the university released a statement thanking the legislature for their work.

“The legislature’s vote to change the institution’s name to Utah Tech University provides us with a reputable name that highlights who we are as a comprehensive polytechnic university and helps set us up for continued success,” the statement read.

Little else remains as an obstacle to the name change, the school’s primary colors of red and white with blue will remain. The Trailblazers nickname will also carry over to the switch. With the school’s investment in creating a technologically innovative learning experience, highlighted by the construction of several new buildings on campus, the name Utah Tech University seems to be a good fit. Love Communication, a Salt Lake City-based communications firm, conducted an exhaustive data collecting and creative branding process to arrive at the recommendation.

In a concession to placate those who still may have hard feelings about the change, the St. George campus will officially be referred to as the Dixie Campus for at least 20 years after the new name is implemented. The D on the hill will also remain, according to the school.

Get used it to, Utah Tech University will soon be a reality.

The new name will go into effect on July 1, 2022.

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