SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Southern Utah’s Dixie State University is poised to change a name often associated with the Deep South and slavery after the Utah Legislature approved a new name Wednesday over local backlash.
The Republican-controlled Legislature voted to change the name to Utah Tech University after multiple executives from the burgeoning tech sector said the Dixie name is often met with confusion and distaste as the institution grows.
GOP Gov. Spencer Cox is expected to sign the bill.
The term got new scrutiny following a national outcry against racial injustice after the death of George Floyd.
“This process is not about cancel culture. No one is trying to erase the great history of this beloved institution,” said Republican Rep. Kelly Miles, who sponsored the name-change bill. “We as Utahns pride ourselves in our forward thinking … it just makes sense that our students in this great state will be better served by the name Utah Tech University.”
A compromise provision will keep the name Dixie on the main campus in St. George, a city located near the Arizona border that’s among the fastest growing in the country.
The name enjoys vocal support in the local area, where many say it has an important meaning separate from the history of slavery. Dixie is a regional moniker referencing the South that dates back to when settlers with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints tried to make the area a cotton-growing mecca in the 1800s.
“It’s our soul in southern Utah,” said GOP Rep. Walt Brooks, who represents the area. His counterpart in the state Senate, Republican Don Ipson, called the change “heart wrenching.”
Dixie State had faced scrutiny in the past over its name but resisted changing it, and the Legislature earlier this year tapped the brakes as momentum grew for a switch. Now, after months of additional study and discussion, supporters say it’s time for a new name that reflects the school’s mission.
Republican Sen. Dan McKay said it was a question of branding, similar to a business decision. “The principles of Utah Tech feels like this gives them opportunities in the marketplace that Dixie State does not give them,” he said.
Another Republican senator, Todd Weiler, pointed to country singer Dolly Parton’s 2018 decision to remove the word from the name of her popular dinner show in Tennessee. He referenced her words about the decision, saying “when you realize something is a problem, you should fix it.”