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Scott Howell: Utah’s Dixie State University needs a new name

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Dixie State University junior Yulisa Castaneda and her fellow students urge Utah senators to hear a bill to change the university’s name during a rally by the front steps of the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

It’s time to change the name of Utah’s Dixie State University.

I say that as a proud alumnus of Dixie College and as current chairman of the school’s national advisory committee. 

We all know that if we were starting a new university today, we could not name it “Dixie.” The regents would not allow it. The state Legislature would not allow it. And the people of Utah would not allow it. And in a very real sense, we are starting a new university. It is no longer a regional college like the original Dixie; it is a state university, a national institution of higher education, and a world center for academic development.

Already, the new university located in St. George, Utah, attracts significant numbers of students from Nevada, California, Arizona and other states, along with a growing number of international students. The growth rate of its student population ranks it in the top tier of Utah institutions of higher learning. Our new university has achieved national recognition in several academic disciplines, including engineering, hospitality, the arts and education. Our athletic teams — female and male — increasingly call attention to the school by performing competitively in numerous sports as in NCAA Division I athletes. 

This is not the small, provincial school I attended on an athletic scholarship years ago. It is a new Utah university, and it needs a new Utah university name — a proud Utah name with no misleading connotations. We know the history of the name. Supposedly, a few transplanted southerners hoped they could grow cotton in the area. But there isn’t a cotton plant to be found.

Besides, settlers did not come from the south but from the north, sent south from what is now northern Utah by the great colonizer himself, Brigham Young. The group even included a few folks recently arrived from Europe. The name Dixie was selected to represent geography and climate. Unfortunately, the name’s history also reflects social and moral values most of us find repulsive.

The name of our new university should reflect all of Utah, not just a small portion of it. That may have been OK for the provincial college I attended, but it is not good enough for today’s new and exciting university. Approving a new name is the responsibility of the legislature and the board of regents. 

I offer these few suggestions only to get the discussion started: Utah Crossroads University (UCU), Scenic Utah University (SCUU), Utah St. George University (USGU), Southwestern Utah University (SWUU). It would be good to involve alumni and other interested parties by conducting a naming competition. Prizes could include school memorabilia, insignia and other appropriate items. I’m sure we could raise funds for such a contest from alumni and friends.

“Dixie” may have been acceptable in the past, but it’s time to look toward the future. It’s time to give our university a name that truly expresses its promise. It’s time to adopt a name that reflects the new reality, the limitless possibilities, and the modern role of our university.

Scott Howell is a retired business executive and former leader in the Utah State Senate. His views are his own; they do not necessarily represent the views of the alumni association or school administrators.

Correction: A previous version mistakenly referred to the author as the president of Dixie State University’s national advisory committee. He is the chairman.