ST. GEORGE — After months of surveys, discussion and loud statements of opinion, it appears "Dixie" is here to stay.
The Dixie State College board of trustees Friday unanimously selected Dixie State University as its recommended name as the school prepares to receive university status later this month.
The State Board of Regents is expected to vote on the issue during its Jan. 25 meeting. If university status is granted, the matter will then go before the state Legislature for final approval.
"This is a really exciting time for Dixie State College," college President Stephen Nadauld said. "Our collective dream of attaining university status is about to come true."
School officials say Dixie will retain its community college mission if granted university status. Nadauld described the new school as a counterpart to Utah Valley and Weber State universities, saying Dixie State University would act as the open-enrollment university option for students in the southern portion of the state.
"What we've been able to do in higher education is complete an architecture that is really beneficial for the state," he said. "Students anywhere in the state, irrespective of their test scores, can find a place to get a university education."
As the change has approached, discussion has centered on the school's "Dixie" name, a reference to the traditional nickname for Utah's southwest region.
Many have argued that the word carries a negative connotation tied to racism, slavery and the deep South. Others, including local elected leaders, have expressed that the word be preserved out of respect to history and the region's pioneer heritage.
"The continued use of 'Dixie' in the new name will demonstrate the importance of community history and the university's critical, long-standing ties with the many local residents who have generously supported and worked to develop it throughout its own history," states a resolution passed by the St. George City Council and Washington County Commission.
School officials partnered with St. George-based Sorensen Advertising to launch a survey and study of public opinion toward Dixie's name. The results of that survey were released on Jan. 9 and showed that 83 percent of survey participants said "Dixie" could or should be a part of the new university's name.
"It's been great to see the participation, not only of elected officials but everyone in this process," Dixie spokesman Steve Johnson said. "We value every opinion that has been voiced."
Nadauld said he was confident the university would be able to overcome misconceptions about the "Dixie" name. He said a campaign would likely accompany the attainment of university status, and in time, the school's image would be tied to the warmth, hospitality and vitality of Utah's southwest.
Prior to the vote by trustees, Dixie student body president Brody Mikesell emotionally spoke about his opposition to keeping "Dixie" in the school's name, but said he would work to support the majority opinion of the student body.
"The student voice is overwhelmingly for Dixie State University," Mikesell said. "Based on the public response, it seems obvious and would be inappropriate to vote any other way."
Board of trustees chairman Steven Caplin said the selection of the school's name was not a "rubber stamp" or predetermined decision. He said the board considered several options and was pleased to be able to select a name preferred by every stakeholder group.
"The board of trustees gave much attention to this issue," Caplin said. "We feel good about the decision we've reached."
Utah's Board of Regents still has the ability to forward a different name to the Legislature or deny Dixie's university status entirely. But Pamela Silberman, communications director for the Utah System of Higher Education, said neither scenario is likely given the preparation of school officials and their efforts for transparency in the naming process.
"They've done a really great job at including the public in the process," Silberman said. "It would be pretty unlikely that the regents would go against that recommendation."
Copyright 2017, Deseret News Publishing Company