A new name for Dixie State University could come as early as June.
The southern Utah school, which has been pushing to change its name because of the ties to slaveholders and the Confederacy, announced the tentative summer timeline Thursday. The latest step comes after administrators got the final go-ahead from the Legislature earlier this month to move forward in the process.
“There’s a lot of emotion around this,” acknowledged David Clark, the chair of Dixie’s board of trustees. “But we will figure this out. And we will find a name that honors the region and our mission.”
The university has appointed 19 members to the Name Recommendation Committee. As required by the legislation to rename the school, the group is made up of members of the St. George community, alumni, students and faculty.
Clark said the members were picked by the board of trustees and the Utah Board of Higher Education that oversees the state’s eight public colleges. There are at least two members of color. But it’s weighted slightly more with community members, Clark acknowledged, because “we felt that was an area that we wanted to work with.”
The university had been criticized by state lawmakers representing that region, who originally held up the bill in the Senate, for not including those voices in its considerations.
The committee will include four members of the Defending Southwestern Utah Heritage Coalition, which has fought against the name change, saying “Dixie” is not about slavery and instead recognizes their ancestors. But 19th century pioneers in the southwest part of Utah were growing cotton, and some of the area’s early settlers were slave owners.
Now, the group will be tasked with holding town hall meetings where members of the public can weigh in on a new name for the school. And they will review findings from independent consultants that will conduct 40 to 60 focus groups, Clark said. There will also be an open survey where anyone can submit their thoughts.
“We’re doing all we can to outreach into this,” he added. “We want to be open and transparent in this process.”
After hearing feedback and recommendations, the group has been asked to come up with five new options to rename “Dixie.” The public will be asked to weigh in on those again — and can do so at any point by emailing email@example.com. The committee will then select one name to forward on to the school’s board of trustees.
The plan is that they will do so by early June.
The trustees will vote on whether to move that forward. If they do, it goes next to the Utah Board of Higher Education and then back to the Legislature for final approval. The deadline for it to be presented on Capitol Hill is Nov. 1 — but Clark said the school wanted to be ahead of schedule in case there are any hiccups.
He’s not sure if lawmakers will call a special session to deal with it at that point or take care of it during the interim.
During a meeting of the Utah Board of Higher Education on Thursday, Clark said that he doesn’t anticipate that “Dixie” will remain in the name. The legislation kept that as a possibility because of the strong community favor for it. But it also instructs the school to pick a name that considers its future, growth and perception nationally.
Dixie State’s administration formally stated in December that it wanted to change the school name because of the impact.
It conducted a study last year that found 64% of respondents outside of Utah related the term “Dixie” to racism. It also concluded the name was causing problems for students with recruitment for jobs and graduate schools in other states. Roughly 22% of recent out-of-state graduates reported that a potential employer had expressed concern about “Dixie” appearing on their resume.
That came even after the school dropped its use of the Confederate flag in 1993 and its Rodney the Rebel mascot representing a Confederate soldier in 2007. The racist imagery it once adopted is gone, Dixie State President Richard Williams has said, but the name continues to maintain the ties and raise questions.
He’s acknowledged the support for “Dixie” among residents but said the name shouldn’t be up to a popularity contest or a majority vote.
Here’s the list of committee members who will ultimately decide on the new name:
• Julie Beck, the committee’s chair, a member of Dixie’s board of trustees and an alumna.
• Shawn Newell, the committee’s vice chair, a member of the Utah Board of Higher Education.
• Penny Mills, the student body president at Dixie.
• Deven Osborne, a Dixie student and athlete.
• Michael Lacourse, a Dixie administrator.
• Susan Ertel, a Dixie professor and president-elect of the school’s faculty senate.
• Megan Church, the president-elect of the Dixie Staff Association and an alumna.
• Jordon Sharp, the vice president of marketing for Dixie.
• Deven Macdonald, a member of Dixie’s board of trustees.
• Patricia Jones, a member of the Utah Board of Higher Education.
• Bruce Hurst, an alumnus.
• Danny Ipson, an alumnus and community member.
• Chip Childs, a community member.
• Terri Draper, a community member, alumna and staff member for Intermountain’s southwestern hospitals, which recently removed “Dixie” for its St. George location.
• Darcy Stewart, a board member for neighboring Dixie Technical College and a community member.
• Randy Wilkinson, an alumnus and community member of the Defending Southwestern Utah Heritage Coalition.
• Ralph Atkin, an alumnus and community member of the Defending Southwestern Utah Heritage Coalition.
• Patsy Lamb, an alumna and community member of the Defending Southwestern Utah Heritage Coalition.
• Connor Shakespeare, an alumnus and community member of the Defending Southwestern Utah Heritage Coalition.