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Dixie College seeking public's input in name change

Published: Friday, Nov. 16 2012 4:30 p.m. MST

ST. GEORGE — Dixie State College is seeking the public's input in choosing a new name as the college prepares to become a university.

Administrators at Dixie anticipate receiving approval from the Utah State Board of Regents and Utah Legislature in January to transition into a university for the 2013-14 academic year, spokesman Steve Johnson said. With that goal in mind, officials have launched an online survey asking for the public's input in choosing the school's new name.

The college is named for the southwestern region of the state, commonly known as Utah's Dixie, but to many the word brings to mind images of racism and slavery instead of red sandstone landscapes.

Since the school's founding in 1910, it has transitioned through six different names, Johnson said. Of those names, only the first, St. George Stake Academy, does not include the word "Dixie."

"We understand there's a lot of history and heritage," he said, "but we also understand the word 'Dixie' has an entirely different connotation outside of Utah."

For the survey, users are asked to rate words like "Utah," "St. George," "Southwestern" and "Dixie" on whether they should be included in the university's name. It also asks users what factors influenced their rankings, such as the ability for the university to have a national reach or the perception by potential students.

The survey went live Nov. 8, Johnson said, and so far has accumulated 1,000 submissions. He said the survey is open to anyone and will be closed Dec. 14, the last day of the fall semester. After that, the responses will be narrowed to three and presented to the Dixie State College Board of Trustees.

"There's been a pretty healthy conversation across the board," Johnson said. "This process has been very eye-opening."

Student body president Brody Mikesell said the more he's educated himself on the issue, the more he's convinced that "Dixie" needs to be removed from the school's name.

Mikesell said, in his role as president, he's heard from black students who are offended by the name, and he's run into resistance while giving recruiting presentations out of state.

"It carries such a heavy connotation that you can't just explain it away," he said.

Johnson said that while the administration will try to represent the community's wishes as best as possible with the selection of a new name, the most important thing is that the school continue to serve students and provide more opportunities for learning in the future.

"We are looking to rebrand ourselves as a university," hesaid. "Whichever (name) it is, it's not going to be as important as gaining university status."

Regardless of their opinion on the "Dixie" question, Mikesell said he has yet to speak to a student who has apprehensions about becoming a university.

"It's really exciting," he said of the transition.

Enrollment at Dixie dipped slightly for the current academic year after several years of growth. Even with the latest drop, enrollment is up 57 percent since 2007.

E-mail: benwood@desnews.com

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