My grandfather, Robert Slack, taught history and political science at Dixie State University (then Dixie State College) for more than 30 years. In 1993, the college’s board of trustees removed the Confederate battle flag as an official school symbol. During the highly divided discussions preceding the decision, my grandfather — a lifelong Republican — encouraged the symbol’s removal.  

While he personally (and mistakenly) thought St. George and the college were free from racism, he was willing to listen to the experiences of others and act accordingly. In one interview, he explained, “We should be sensitive … and if it does offend people, it is our obligation to discontinue use of the flag.” He recognized that many people, including his students, saw and felt something that he didn’t. He sympathized.  

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I spent the beginning of my life in Washington County. At the time, I was one of about 200 Black people out of a population of almost 100,000. On a recent trip back to the area, I was shocked anew at the blatant racism pervading the region. The “Dixie” stamped on mountains, businesses and a university rendered the Confederate flags scattered throughout the county unsurprising. Though I had grown up with the normalization of the term “Dixie” as a reference to southern Utah, returning to the area after years of education and racial reckoning made the word unpalatable.  

Just last month, the Utah Board of Higher Education unanimously voted to change the name of Dixie State University. While final measures toward the name change are pending with the state Legislature, a significant resistance to the renaming is gaining momentum. One Facebook group aimed at preserving the “Dixie heritage” of southern Utah has more than 3,000 followers. A number of prominent figures, including CEOs, legislators and community leaders, have expressed their opposition to changing the name.

Though nearly three decades have passed since my grandfather’s discussions on removing one racist aspect of the historic university, it seems many of the calls for preservation have nevertheless remained the same. And notably, southern Utah’s resistance to change is not unique. 

In the Bible, Christ gives the parable of the good Samaritan in which a man is robbed, beaten and left on the street to die. Two holy figures, a priest and a Levite, pass by the man without rendering aid. It isn’t until a Samaritan passes by that the man’s needs are ministered to. Though it would have been perfectly reasonable for the Samaritan to simply check on the man before heading back on his way, he recognized the physical and economic harms the man had experienced and tended to those individual needs.  

The parable of the good Samaritan teaches us that the requirement to love and help others is not narrowly defined. And in relation to supporters of racial justice, there are two groups of people: the sincere and the hypocritical. The latter involves those who believe (or claim to believe) the notion that all are equal. However, genuine efforts to act by that idea are limited, especially if the highlighted inequality causes discomfort. They mirror the individuals in the parable of the good Samaritan who walked past the injured man without offering meaningful assistance. In contrast, the former group is characterized by their intent to fully listen and effectuate change. 

We cannot dictate when the harm oppressed people feel is real.

As I rediscovered on my recent trip, Utah is lamentably full of hypocrites. People are comfortable saying Black Lives Matter in the abstract but are hesitant to support movements that put those words into action. They prioritize confederate tributes, they refer to activists as “terrorists,” and they view racism as an individual, rather than a systemic, issue. They hear the pleas of Black people and dismiss them for the sake of conservatism. 

In contrast, the latter group, like the good Samaritan, possesses two qualities that differentiate their approach to racial justice: attentiveness and sympathy. When Black people cry for change, they seek to not only hear but listen. They then act.  

If we claim to support equality but allow our criminal justice, housing and education systems to disproportionately harm Black individuals, we are no better than the parabolic Levite. If we tell ourselves that all lives matter but ignore the pleas of Black groups to change harmful and trauma-inducing monuments and names that memorialize their suppression, we are no better than the parabolic priest.  

Regardless of one’s religious or personal beliefs, it is disingenuous at best to claim to be a promoter of equality while refusing to listen and act upon the voices of those who are hurting. We must, instead, seek to be sincere and have difficult conversations like those my grandfather invited. 

We cannot dictate when the harm oppressed people feel is real. We cannot ignore the pain and suffering of minority groups because it is inconvenient. We cannot afford to sacrifice empathy for traditionalism. We need humility — listening ears and hearts, words and actions that matter. Ultimately, the question of whether Dixie State’s name should be changed isn’t really a question at all.   

Desiree Mitchell is a third-year law student at the University of Chicago Law School. She is a graduate of and former cheerleader for Brigham Young University.