ST. GEORGE — Dixie State College of Utah got its name after Mormon settlers, primarily from the South, tried to turn the warm region into a cotton-growing mecca in the 1800s.
But some people argue the moniker carries negative, Deep South connotations and should be stricken from the name of the campus that features a statue of Confederate soldiers and only recently retired the Rebel as its school mascot.
"The question really is, do you want to be perceived by everybody else on the planet as a defiant school promoting racism, or do you want to be perceived as a respectable school which promotes the high ideals of our society?" said community member Richard Hutchins, who attended a Thursday forum exploring a potential name change.
Hutchins was one of more than 100 people at the emotional meeting in St. George that was organized as the school with about 10,000 students seeks to become a university, The Spectrum of St. George reported.
With that status expected in January, the debate over Dixie — and the school's identity — is heating up.
"The name most likely won't change after this because where do you go after you've reached university status?" said Erik Sorenson, president of the marketing company researching the change. "This is who Dixie State is going to be for the next 100 plus years."
Other names under consideration include Zion University, Utah Southwestern University, Red Rock University, and St. George University.
But some people want to keep the name or a variation of it, saying it's part of the region's heritage and doesn't have racial subtext among Utahns who have long known the area as "Utah's Dixie."
"I think we are becoming over-concerned about political correctness and ruining our heritage. I don't think we have to give up one for the other," said Margaret Leigh, a St. George resident.
Former faculty member Connie Corbett Keate pointed out a name change would affect everything from school songs to an iconic "D'' emblazoned on a nearby hillside.
The heritage argument isn't swaying opponents of the current name. Some gathered around the campus soldier statue before the forum, holding candles and draping a sheet over its metallic Confederate flag.
"Frankly, I understand the feelings of tradition. However, the success of the university and of the students will be severely hindered by the name Dixie," said Michael Eaton, an adjunct English professor at Dixie State, according to The Spectrum.
Information from: The Spectrum, http://www.thespectrum.com