ST. GEORGE, Utah (ABC4 News) — From the Dixie Convention Center to the Dixie Bowls & Billiards, more than 100 buildings in the St. George area include ‘Dixie’ in their name. The debate over the word’s meaning is at the core of an increasingly passionate discussion to ban the use of the word in Southern Utah.

Dixie State University officials describe the regional meaning as a word that represents perseverance, service, and love of its first settlers, but critics say the national meaning is associated with the Confederacy and slavery. The university’s decision to revisit the school name comes amid a national outcry against racial injustice and police brutality following the death of George Floyd.

In a statement released Wednesday on the university website, school officials wrote in part:

“There is a widely embraced, local sentiment toward the word Dixie that represents the rich pioneering heritage of sacrifice, determination and generosity of our early settlers. The unwavering dedication of our founders and community paved the way to make Dixie State the flourishing University it is today. We respect the regional meaning of Dixie adopted by many, describing the local heritage and honoring the men and women who settled the beautiful St. George area. Additionally, we understand that to many others, the term Dixie stirs negative connotations associated with discrimination and intolerance.

Dixie State University

“We’ll do our best to honor the past and at the same time do what is in the best interests of our students, which ultimately is what we’re here to do,” university spokesperson Jordon Sharp tells ABC4 News.

From the earliest founders in the late 1800’s, the term ‘Dixie’ came quickly as the cotton mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. The name has been a part of the school since the early 1900’s, which is around the same time the letter ‘D’ was painted on a hill in St. George, meant as a symbol of campus pride.

A group of students, faculty, and activists unsuccessfully pushed for a name reform in 2013 — a change that would ultimately require the state legislature’s approval.

In 2009, the school’s nickname was changed from the Rebels to Red Storm. A statue depicting a soldier on a horseback waving a Confederate flag with one hand and reaching out to a wounded soldier with the other was removed in 2012.

Sharp tells ABC4 News the university has not started any formal process to change the name but officials are listening and learning from individuals of all viewpoints, emphasizing their desire to make the campus a welcoming community for all.

Troy Anderson, founder of the Southern Utah chapter of Black Lives Matter, says the word is synonymous with a “brutal period in this nation’s history” and is “grateful” some members of the community are standing up for a name change.

“The true pioneer legacy descendants are sensitive to those who were enslaved and removed from the native lands because of their own ancestors who were persecuted and killed for their religious beliefs and sought refuge elsewhere,” Anderson wrote in a statement to ABC4 News.

He added, “Although there are a small number of people who lack compassion, I am optimistic that more than the majority of people in Southern Utah know it’s time to be more inclusive and sensitive to all in this wonderful community.”

Jeanetta Williams, president of NAACP’s tri-state conference area of Idaho-Utah-Nevada, said it is time for Dixie State to show that it rejects Confederate symbols and change its name.

“It would send a clear message that they are listening to the people, not only here in Utah, but across the country when people are saying that names do matter; flags do matter; the Confederate symbols and the Southern stances after the Civil War — they do matter,” Williams said.

Katie Karalis
Katie worked as a multimedia journalist in Reno, Nevada for KRNV News 4 and in Quincy, Illinois for WGEM-TV before making the move to Utah. Katie graduated from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism where she anchored and reported for the Emmy-award-winning Northwestern News Network.