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Bison now in place where Confederate statue once stood at Dixie State University

The next thing to go? The name ‘Dixie’

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A new bison statue occupies the space that formerly held a confederate statue on Dixie State University’s campus.

A new bison statue occupies the space that formerly held a confederate statue on Dixie State University’s campus in St. George on Wednesday, March 2, 2022. The school will in a few months officially become Utah Tech University.

Chris Caldwell, The Spectrum via Associated Press

Dixie State University — soon-to-be Utah Tech University — has a replacement for what was once a controversial statue depicting Confederate soldiers.

The university this week installed a new statue of a bison on the spot where the Confederate statue once stood, The Spectrum reported. The bison represents the school’s new mascot, the Trailblazer.

It’s the latest move for the university, which for years now has been undergoing a rebranding effort as it moves away from symbols known to the rest of the nation to be associated with the Confederacy, slavery, racism and the history of the South.

The school has changed mascots twice since 2009, when it stopped calling its sports teams the Rebels.

The next thing to go? The name “Dixie.” The school is scheduled to officially become Utah Tech University on July 1, when a bill approved by the Utah Legislature in November takes effect.

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A bronze statue depicting two Confederate soldiers stands on the campus of Dixie State College in St. George on Friday, April 15, 2010. A symbolic change took place this week at what will in a few months officially become Utah Tech University as crews installed a new bigger-than-life statue of a bison in its place.

Jud Burkett, The Spectrum via Associated Press

The university’s bison statue was donated by the Safari Club International Foundation. The artist, Douglas Van Howard, calls this piece “Prairie Spring.”

“The bison became the symbol of the Trailblazer because it was the original trailblazer in the United States in Northern America, the original pioneer of Native American trails; (trails) that were used for wagons and for just traveling were bison trails,” said Jordan Sharp, DSU’s vice president of marketing and communication, repeating the thinking behind the school’s 2016 change to its current Trailblazers mascot.

In 2012, Dixie State University removed the statue that showed two Confederate soldiers, with one “Rebel” soldier on horseback reaching down to assist a fallen comrade during the Civil War. That statue had also been donated by a local artist, Jerry Anderson.

“When we rebranded, it was our hope to find a positive representative of trailblazing and the rebel spirit,” Sharp said. “And so that has sat empty because we haven’t had anything that we felt really was, you know, ready to be in the place of the Confederate soldier statue, so it’s sat empty. This is a great opportunity to provide an alternative, which still goes along with that trailblazing pioneer spirit.”

The debate over the university’s name change was particularly divisive for the southern Utah city of St. George. Opponents said changing it was akin to cancel culture. They argued Utah’s meaning of the “Dixie” name had more to do with the area’s history, when Latter-day Saint pioneers came to the area to grow crops that were cultivated in the South such as cotton.

But backers said the name has racial connotations that are harming students’ employment and graduate school prospects, as well as faculty recruitment and educators’ opportunities to collaborate with academics at other institutions.

Contributing: Associated Press