SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Amid the removal of Confederate flags from public property and displays across the South, some in Utah say now is the time for Dixie State University to re-open the discussion about changing its name.
Dixie State psychology professor Dannelle Larsen-Rife said the name has racist associations for people outside the state and changing it would improve the school’s image.
“We’re really appearing on a more national and international stage, I think it’s important we have this discussion and really understand how it represents the institution,” she said.
In an editorial published in The Spectrum newspaper of St. George, she suggested re-naming the school St. George University to recognize the town where it’s based located about 300 miles south of Salt Lake City.
Dixie is a nickname for the South, particularly the states that were part of the Confederacy, and the title of an anthem from that era with lyrics that evoke slavery and racism.
The name in Utah dates back to the 1800s, when Mormon settlers, many of them from the South, tried to make the region a cotton-growing mecca. Supporters say the name is important to the area’s history, and separate from the history of slavery.
A group of students, faculty and activists unsuccessfully pushed for a change just before the college attained university status in 2013. The school’s board of trustees decided to retain the name after a marketing firm conducted a survey that found broad local support for it.
The school isn’t considering a name change now, Dixie State spokesman Steve Johnson said, though he told the AP that it’s not fair to speculate on what might happen in the future.
Student Christy Fiscer would like to see the issue re-opened. She recently went to a psychology conference in Las Vegas, where she had to explain the name to and the school’s western location to other attendees, Fiscer said.
“It’s a bit of an embarrassment because of the connotations with it,” she said.
The school’s spokesman said that Dixie State’s students and professors have distinguished themselves outside Utah.
“When the topic of the institution’s name arises, we have the opportunity to tell our story and what we have to offer, along with the history of our founding,” he said in a statement.
While supporters of the name say that the word Dixie is separate from the Confederate flag, Fiscer pointed to rebel pageantry adopted by the school in the past, including a Confederate soldier mascot.
In recent years, though, Dixie State has taken steps to remove some of that imagery from campus. 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.
The school has also done more to attract diverse students and has increased minority enrollment over the last two years, Larsen-Rife said in her editorial.
While Dixie State doesn’t need to disregard its history, she argued that it should do more amid renewed calls to take down the Confederate flag after the June 17 massacre of nine black church members at a Bible study in Charleston, South Carolina. Dylann Roof, a white man who appeared in a photo with a Confederate flag, is charged in the killings at the church.
Early Thursday, South Carolina state lawmakers approved a bill to remove the flag entirely from the Statehouse, and Republican Gov. Nikki Haley later signed it. The flag was removed Friday and taken to a museum. And in Alabama, the governor ordered that Confederate flags be removed from the state Capitol grounds after the Charleston massacre.
“We should have this conversation,” Larsen-Rife said.