The protests that came in the wake of George Floyd's death in May 2020 sparked conversations around social justice all across the country, including at Utah's southernmost university.
"This is not a new conversation at Dixie State University. We used to be the Dixie Rebels so we changed our mascot. We used to have the Confederate flag (so) we changed that," DSU President Richard Williams said. "You could look back 30, 40, 50 years, and we've continued to have different conversations regarding taking some of the symbolism of the confederate war out of our name."
In 2020, DSU started hearing from students who felt that a moniker that included the word "Dixie" was problematic. Williams described students calling him and telling him that in post-graduation job interviews, interviewers would ask them to explain the word "Dixie," and ask questions about what kind of school it was.
"A young kid that's coming out (of college) that's interviewing for a job does not want to have to spend most of their interview explaining the name," Williams said.
As more and more students started to speak out against the moniker, the university realized it had a problem on its hands, leading it to partner with Cicero Group to do a comprehensive study looking into how the name was impacting students and the university at large.
What that study found was that "Dixie" was impacting all facets of the university, from student, faculty and staff recruitment to marketing, where some outfitters wouldn't carry the DSU brand due to the connotations associated with "Dixie."
"So we made the decision that, yeah, moving forward, we need to have a new name," Williams said. "We went through the legislative process and the state Legislature changed our name.”
On July 1, what was once Dixie State University will officially be known as Utah Tech University
To prepare for the transition, Dixie State University on Sunday released its new logos and branding.
"Complementing the university's polytechnic focus, the logo's modern design captures the institution's future-focused mission. Additionally, the logo features both the shape and the acronym of the state of Utah, and the colors pay homage to the red rocks and blue skies of southern Utah while also representing the cooler weather of northern Utah and the warmer climate down south," the university said in a statement.
After the need to change the name became apparent, the next step was to assess options for the university's new name.
"This was probably, arguably, one of the biggest name studies that's ever been done," said Jordon Sharp, DSU's vice president of marketing and communication.
Through the study, the university honed in on six themes, which it narrowed down throughout the process by receiving input from its "audiences," which included alumni, current students, potential students, parents of students and more.
"We made sure we heard all of those individuals," Sharp said. "What does this mean to you? Would you like this on a shirt? Would you be proud to buy this? Is this something you would want in your diploma?"
When all was said and done, DSU had conducted three major studies, "hours and hours" of interviews, surveys and focus groups that encompassed the feelings of approximately 20,000 different participants.
Three themes emerged through the process, which the university used to craft its new name: Utah, tech and university.
What’s in a name?
One of the reasons that DSU felt it was so important to incorporate Utah into the new name was due to the confusion caused by "Dixie," Sharp said, which he called "geographically confusing" due to its connotation with the southern United States.
"I tell people, it's kind of like starting a new school in Wyoming and calling it Vermont University — you wouldn't do that," Sharp said.
He said that they also heard "loud and clear," not to remove the term "university" from their name.
"Don't change it to institute, don't change it to whatever other name because we worked hard for the university status," Sharp said.
Another important factor in crafting the new name was acknowledging the role of technology at the university and leaning into its status as a polytechnic-focused university.
"A lot of people think that we embrace the name and now we're going to embrace technology, but it's actually the opposite of that," Williams said.
Wiliams said that when DSU became a university in 2013, it reached out to determine how it could serve its local community and define what it was going to be as a university. What DSU found was that St. George and Washington County were really focused on STEM and attracting tech companies from Silicon Slopes to Tech Ridge.
So, the university began looking at state institutions that had a technological focus and while doing so, discovered a "huge gaping hole" in the western U.S.
"St. George, Utah, was right in the middle of that hole so we knew that we were on to something with having a technological focus," Williams said.
Since 2015, DSU has built over 160 new academic programs, 81% of which are STEM-focused.
In addition to the STEM focus, the comprehensive mission of the university includes looking at "the arts, the education, the music," and a focus on an active learning experience, no matter the academic program.
"When we say Utah Tech University, it really made a lot of sense for us because we have this polytechnic focus where it's hands-on, you're going to be career-ready," Williams said.
Moving forward while acknowledging the past
Even though DSU is transitioning to a more inclusive name, better encompassing the university's mission and direction, Sharp was adamant that the rebrand is "in no way" designed to erase history.
"We're confident that we can honor all of those who came before us, building upon their great work, changing a name that best reflects and is inclusive to everyone and we can still honor the great heritage of the area," Sharp said. "It doesn't need to be either-or."
Williams said that they decided to pursue a rebrand after realizing that they weren't able to offer what they need to offer to students, and that the university wants to make sure that every student has an opportunity to flourish.
"With this Utah Tech University, we want to shout from every rooftop that this is our mission," Williams said. "That we're an open, inclusive, polytechnic university (and) that when you come to Utah Tech University, you're going to have this hands-on learning experience, that you're going to be able to be career-ready, that you can get out into the workforce and be ready."
He also pointed to the growth of St. George — the fastest-growing metro in the U.S. — and Washington County, and the university's responsibility to educate an influx of students as well as supply a workforce for the area.
"Moving forward, we believe that we are going to be the producer of the future of the workforce in Washington County and we take that very seriously," Williams said.
When asked if he believes the rebrand will attract a broader audience to southern Utah, Williams' answer was simple.
"We know it will," he said.
"With this new name and this new brand, we're not only going to be known in our state and regionally, but we're going to be known nationally and internationally."