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SALT LAKE CITY — A university in Utah voted Monday to drop “Dixie” from its name — an example of the nation’s reexamination of the remnants of Confederacy and slavery.
Dixie State University’s Board of Trustees unanimously recommended the name change after reviewing the results of a study that showed some employers in other states expressed concern about the Dixie name on graduates’ resumes. It also said nearly two-thirds of people in the college’s recruiting region associate the name Dixie with the Confederacy.
“I don’t know how we justify saying we are an open and inclusive university if we maintain anything that brings up visions of a racist, Confederate history,” board vice chairwoman Tiffany Wilson said at the meeting.
The recommendation was made to the state’s Board of Higher Education and must be approved by the Republican-controlled state Legislature. The university has not chosen a new name yet.
The university in St. George about 300 miles south of Salt Lake City had faced scrutiny in the past over its name but had resisted changing it. The area was nicknamed Dixie, a reference to Southern states, when settlers with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, many of them from the South, tried to make it into a cotton-growing mecca in the 1800s.
Supporters say the name is important to the area’s heritage and is separate from the history of slavery. But efforts across the U.S. to remove monuments, names and other Confederate symbols have intensified during the nation’s reckoning over racial injustice.
The study done by a Salt Lake City management consulting firm indicated that support for the name did not extend far beyond the surrounding community, which could hurt student and faculty recruitment. The data showed that 33% of southern Utah residents and 64% of people from the university’s recruiting region associated the name Dixie with the Confederacy.
University administrators said they were concerned by several findings, including that 22% of recent graduates seeking jobs outside Utah have had an employer express concern about the Dixie name on their resume.
“I don’t think it’s wise to kick the can down the road any farther,” said trustee and St. George Mayor Jon Pike. “It’s coming up more frequently now, and I think we need to focus on reality. We can’t assume that the pipeline of students will just continue to flow as it has.”
Dixie State has taken steps in recent years to remove some Confederate imagery. In 2009, the school’s nickname was changed from the Rebels to Red Storm. A statue depicting a soldier on a horseback waving a Confederate flag with one hand and reaching out to a wounded soldier with the other was removed in 2012.
In 2013, a group of students, faculty and activists unsuccessfully pushed for a name change. The board unanimously voted to retain the name after a survey found broad local support.
Jeanetta Williams, president of the NAACP’s Salt Lake chapter, said she was “overjoyed” to see that Dixie State now supports changing its name and rejecting Confederate symbols.
“I have been in this fight, in this struggle for years, and so to hear this — it is a happy day,” said Williams, who was a vocal critic of the school’s decision in 2013. “It’s one of those changes that needed to be done, and I was happy to have been a part of it.”
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