ST. GEORGE, Utah (ABC4) – Thanks to a passing vote in a special session of the Utah State Legislature last week, Dixie State University will soon be nothing more than a memory.
On July 1, 2022, the school will officially cap an intensive rebranding process when it flips the switch and becomes Utah Tech University.
The pending name change hasn’t been met with some controversy with many locals in an uproar over a perceived slight to the area’s heritage.
Regardless, the Dixie moniker will be retired next summer.
But what about the other schools in the area that go by a similar name, Dixie High School and Dixie Middle School? Officials in the Washington County School District tell ABC4.com they’ve given no consideration to a name change for the schools and feel no need to explore the topic.
“It’s an apples-to-oranges comparison because Dixie State it University is a national and international university that that serves kids from everywhere, where our schools are local,” District Spokesperson Steven Dunham explains. “They serve only our local students that understand the heritage of the Dixie name, how it came up through the Pioneer ranks. It doesn’t have a racist connotation here locally.”
Dunham’s explanation has been the primary argument for folks who don’t wish to see one of the St. George area’s largest community institutions undergo such a symbolic transformation.
That point has been countered by the first portion of Dunham’s rationale, that the university is looking to increase its reach across the nation and even the globe and that a name like “Dixie” is more commonly understood to be associated with the Deep South of the United States. Some connections to slavery and the Confederate States that attempted to secede during the Civil War have also been implied. The university’s former nickname for its teams, the Rebels, and some troubling memories of student behavior have compounded this association.
The Dixie State name has also reportedly caused trouble for alumni looking to pursue careers outside of the state and find themselves having to explain why a school in Utah would have a name that many would assume would be located in the Deep South, in addition to a potentially racist perception.
In the case of the local high school and middle school, which doesn’t have a need to consider the challenges of being misunderstood by non-Utahns, the Dixie names will remain intact.
It also helps that the nicknames, Flyers for the high school, and Eagles for the middle school, aren’t linked to the Confederacy.
And the people who live in the area get it; few folks, if no one at all, in St. George thinks of racism when slapping the Dixie name on a building, according to Dunham.
“There are hundreds, if not thousands of businesses down here with Dixie in their name, because that’s, that’s the Pioneer heritage,” Dunham illustrates. “Everything down here is Dixie.”
He’s right. Many businesses in St. George also use the “D-word” in their name. Dixie Meats, Dixie Nutrition, Dixie Pizza Wagon, Dixie Pet Grooming, Dixie Guitar King are just a few examples that appear on a search for “Dixie” in St. George on Yelp.
The name’s influences also fill the natural landscape of the area. The D on the hill, that stands for Dixie. It’s not going anywhere, according to a statement from the university, which owns the space. The word DIXIE is also proudly emblazoned on a giant hill that overlooks the city, known as the Sugarloaf.
There’s even a third school in St. George with such a name, Dixie Technical College, which did not immediately respond to an inquiry on the issue from ABC4.com.
To Dunham and other officials at the school district, being known as residents of Utah’s Dixie is a major part of the area’s identity, which was settled by the Mormon pioneers more than 170 years ago.
“I think you could safely say that it is very synonymous with the community and people look at it as a proud heritage because it is about pioneers coming to a desert and surviving,” he states. “And so they’re proud of being Utah’s Dixie.”
And while it makes sense to him that the institution of higher learning would feel some need to change their name to give their students a lift in their careers, that same pressure isn’t felt for local high schoolers and middle schoolers, Dunham adds.
“In a survey, they asked students about any negative impact because of the name Dixie State University, and apparently there was some negative impact,” Dunham says, citing the research the university performed early in the name change process. “If you take that same philosophy and put it to a high school student or to middle school students, there’s no negative impact. They’re local kids that understand the heritage of the name, Dixie, and how it’s positive heritage down here.”