A committee created to consider a name change for a university in Utah voted Monday to choose a replacement that does not include Dixie — a regional term many consider offensive because of its association with the Deep South and slavery.
Dixie State University in St. George has been studying the impact of changing its name for nearly a year following a national outcry against racial injustice after the death of George Floyd. While several hurdles remain, the committee’s decision makes it likely that whatever name is ultimately recommended to the Legislature will not include the controversial term that has spurred months of protest and debate.
The University Board of Trustees formed a committee in March to review options for the institution’s name under a process outlined in a bill Gov. Spencer Cox signed earlier this year. The committee collected feedback from a public survey, as well as students, university employees and community members before voting to ditch the Dixie name.
The committee will reconvene next week to discuss specific names that performed well in focus groups and then choose one to recommend to the university’s Board of Trustees later this month. The name will then go to the Utah Board of Higher Education, which has until Nov. 1 to vote on whether 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.
Sophia 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.