Dixie by any other name would smell as sweet.
The unofficial nickname of the Confederacy, “Dixie,” was always just meant to be an epithet of the greater St. George area when cotton was grown here in the 19th century. It was never meant to be the official name of anything.
However, the name stuck. The college that was founded here was named “Dixie” in 1913, perhaps as an endearing tribute to the pioneers who founded the area. But whatever the reasoning for the name, it was abandoned in the 1950s when Dixie College adopted the “Rebels” mascot and other Confederate motifs. Confederate flags, costumes of Confederate soldiers, and even blackface are prevalant in the yearbooks of past decades at Dixie.
Dixie State College eventually evolved in 2013 into the Dixie State University that we know today. While the “Rebels” mascot was dropped, the name refused to evolve.
Brody Mikesell, the student body president of DSU in 2013, was among those who wanted the name changed. He was on the board of trustees that collectively voted to keep “Dixie” in the new university’s name.
Mikesell said while he was initially in favor of the name “Dixie” after students started voicing their opinion to him and doing some research on DSC’s history with Confederate imagery, he changed his mind. Mikesell started speaking out against keeping the name “Dixie.”
“Administrators came to me, pressuring me and telling me it would be inappropriate if I voted against the rest of the board (of trustees) in the vote to change the name or not,” Mikesell said. “So I gave in and voted to keep the name, ‘Dixie.’ They wanted to say the vote was unanimous.”
Mikesell said he now “deeply regrets” voting to keep the name.
“Dixie’s isolation has driven a pride in this community to keep the name no matter what,” Mikesell said. “Arguments (to keep the name) are juvenile and emotion-driven. They’re not based on fact.”
The “fact” is, unless we adopt a new name for our school, DSU will never grow to its full potential as a university.
Several other universities around the country have rebranded themselves when their previous name was holding them back. When Beaver College in Pennsylvania became Arcadia University in 2001, applications doubled. Trenton State College was looking to increase its influence when it became College of New Jersey in 1996. And University of California, Hayward wanted to attract more students when it changed to University of California, East Bay in 2005. We wouldn’t be the first.
The argument to change the name isn’t even about political correctness anymore. A name like “Dixie” on our diplomas won’t make much sense to a potential employer outside of Utah without an explanation. It’s informal and has too much negative historical baggage attached to it. This university would see much more growth and have a better reputation if it had a neutral name like “St. George State University.”
While DSU administrators have made it clear the name is not going to change anytime soon, the fight to change the name will only increase. Proponents for the name change will continue to speak out and educate the student body on the history and true meaning of the word until our voice is too loud to be ignored. DSU will have to change its name if enough students and faculty members demand it be updated.
The name “Dixie” should remain a nickname. That is what it was always intended to be. It’s a 100-year-old tradition, but even traditions change over time. We can make it part of our mascot, like the “Aggies” for Utah State University.
It’s time for our university to let go, evolve, and pick a new name that is reflective of its aspirations for growth and its values of inclusiveness and open-mindedness.