DSU name change: What are the next steps?

Southern Utah residents relate the word “Dixie” to perseverance, service and love of its first settlers, but to many “Dixie” is associated with the Confederacy and slavery. It is up to the Utah Legislature to take the final vote to approve a name change for Dixie State University or not. Photo by Misha Mosiichuk.

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After the Board of Trustees and the Utah Board of Higher Education voted to recommend a name change for Dixie State University, it’s now in the Utah Legislature’s hands.

The Legislature will convene Jan. 19 and within roughly three weeks will need to open a request for a bill file regarding the name change.

At this point, nothing is set in motion to begin a name-change process at the state level, Rep. Lowry Snow, R-Santa Clara, said.

It is unknown whether a bill file has been opened yet or not, but it can be opened by a member of the House or Senate. Once it is numbered, it will become public, then be assigned to a standing committee for a hearing.

“All of that is downstream,” Snow said.

In the event that the Legislature files a bill stating the name should be changed, then the bill needs to address how the name change would be accomplished, such as what the cost will be, possible new names for the university, what the timeline of the name change will be, and who would participate in the selection process of the new name, Snow said.

“Because eventually [these issues] will have to come back to the Legislature as well,” Snow said.

Snow said he has not heard of any new possible names, and the process of choosing a new name is unknown.

“I’m going to speculate,” Snow said. “If there is a bill passed that would require a name change and deletion of ‘Dixie,’ I believe that it will include not only a process but a timeframe of when this would be accomplished.”

Jordon Sharp, vice president of marketing and communication, said he does not want to disclose any information involving the process of the name change in fear of jumping ahead and making it look like the name change has been approved when it hasn’t yet.

Faculty Senate President Bill Christensen, professor of business management, said 80% of the faculty senate voted in favor of the name change, but to his knowledge, a poll was never created for individual faculty members to determine a final number.

He said he knows not all faculty members want the name changed, but with a majority of the Faculty Senate voting for the change, Christensen said he thinks that sends a pretty strong message of what the faculty members generally want.

Christensen said the name of the university is its brand, and a brand name should never generate a negative feeling.

“If any company in the world had 1 or 2% of the population [saying] they really didn’t like their brand name or word, the company would go bananas because there is no reason anybody should have a brand name that is offensive to any significant group of people,” Christensen said.

When faculty members go to conferences or any important business trips, “Dixie” is on their business cards, in their introductions, and he said too many faculty members he knows have had negative experiences being associated with the word “Dixie.”

Two examples of the experiences were:

  • Taking a class to Zion and people pounding on the bus because it says Dixie.
  • Going to conferences and being denied the opportunity to collaborate with peers.

Christensen said: “We are on the front lines of this; we can’t not mention it if we feel like we are in a crowd that wouldn’t like it. It is not fair.”

He said a lot of faculty haven’t experienced it, but he feels for many faculty members who “are getting hit with this in ways that are detrimental to their careers and to their wellbeing. I have to support it; it’s not just an opinion; I honestly feel it’s the right thing to do.”

From conversations Student Body President Penny Mills, a senior communication studies major from Orem, has had with students, she said, “I don’t know if it’s a majority of students, but a lot of students understand why [the name] needs to change.”

Mills adds that the student forum on Jan. 12 consisted of students asking questions and giving comments in favor of the name change. One aspect of the name change survey brought up was the fact that 1 in 4 students are questioned by employers regarding DSU being on their resumes.

“The vibe around the room was patient and understanding,” Mills said.

She said discussion of a name change has been around for a while and the faculty senate voted to recommend a name change last semester, so it shouldn’t have been a shock to students coming back from break to the news of a possible name change, but she said she does see how some students could have felt that way.

“[The university is] not trying to change the history at all but trying to add to the university as it grows,” Mills said.

Mills said for students to keep an eye out for the Blazer Digest as it will explain more of “why the DSU Student Association is standing in support of the name change and what students can do to make sure that their voices are heard.”

Students may also reach out to representatives of the Utah Legislature with their thoughts in favor or against the name change to ensure their voices are heard.