Utah's Dixie State begins name recommendation process

Protestors and counter-protestors gather at the Dixie State University campus to express opinions on the potential name change of the university Monday, March 1, 2021, in St. George.

SALT LAKE CITY — A university in Utah voted Thursday to begin a process that could involve dropping the name Dixie — a regional term many consider offensive because of its association with the Deep South and slavery.

Dixie State University’s Board of Trustees formed a committee that will review options for the institution’s name under a process outlined in a bill Gov. Spencer Cox signed last week.

The committee will collect feedback from a public survey, as well as students, university employees and community members before submitting a final name recommendation for the board of trustees’ approval.

The name will then go to the Utah Board of Higher Education, which has until Nov. 1 to vote on whether or not to recommend the name to a legislative committee.

The Utah university’s board of trustees voted to remove Dixie from its name in December. But because it’s a public institution, the Legislature had to sign off as well.

The moniker’s deep ties to local history fueled a backlash at the GOP-dominated Legislature. Lawmakers passed a watered-down version of the bill that would require the name to be reconsidered next year but allow the option of keeping it.

Dixie State had faced scrutiny in the past over its name but resisted changing it. The area was nicknamed Dixie, a reference to Southern states, when settlers with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, many of them from the South, tried to make it a cotton-growing mecca in the 1800s.

Supporters say the name is important to the area’s heritage and is separate from the history of slavery.

Eppolito is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.

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