ST. GEORGE — What’s in a name? That was the question at the forefront of a discussion hosted Thursday by the Dixie State University Institute of Politics and Public Affairs, as a panel comprising leaders of the university, faculty, students and members of the community sat down to discuss the recent recommendation by the DSU Board of Trustees and Utah Board of Higher Education that the school should undergo an institutional name change.
The recommendations from both DSU and the state higher education board were unanimously approved and forwarded to the Utah State Legislature, who will vote as to whether the name will be changed because the institution’s name is in state statute.
Recommendations were based on key findings – including that 25% of Southern Utahns believed the name has a negative impact on the school’s brand and that 22% of recent Dixie State graduates had difficulties finding jobs outside of Utah because of the name “Dixie” on their resumes – from a study conducted by the Cicero Group, which measured the impacts, both positive and negative, of the name “Dixie” on the university, its faculty, alumni, current and prospective students and the community at-large.
The full impact report can be read here.
The panel was hosted and moderated by Vince Brown who is the director of DSU’s Institute of Politics and Public Affairs.
The institute of politics hosted the forum in order to have a civil conversation surrounding the recommended name change and to educate, inform, seek to find common ground and explore the facts of the issue.
Panelists included Dr. Jordon Sharp, Dixie State’s vice president of marketing and communication; Dr. William Christensen, DSU professor of business management and Faculty Senate president from 2020-21; Troy Blanchard, local attorney; Tim Anderson, local attorney; and Penny Mills, DSU student body president.
The event took place on the Mainstage Theatre in Dixie State’s Dolores Doré Eccles Fine Arts Center where limited, socially-distanced seating was available with overflow seating available in the Gardner Center Ballroom.
The event was also streamed live and is still available to view on the DSU Institute of Politic’s Facebook page.
Opening the discussion, Brown said that the institute has not taken and will not take a stance on the issue but is there to foster discussion rather than debate.
“This is less of a debate as it is a discussion,” Brown said, adding that there is plenty of debate in the community.
In Southern Utah, the name “Dixie” has deep ties to the area’s pioneer heritage and many community members are reticent to see the University remove the moniker.
On Jan. 11, students and other community members, panelist Blanchard included, gathered in protest of the change. Blanchard took exception to the results of the impact study and said in a previous St. George News report regarding the protest, that some of the numbers are false.
“Lie number one: the students can’t get jobs. That is the most absurd thing I’ve ever heard,” Blanchard said in the report. “How many people reported they had trouble getting a job? Twelve …. They want to change the name based on that.”
During the discussion, Blanchard encouraged people to really dive deep into the impact study and look at it very critically, adding that anecdotal stories and innuendo are not the same as the data, which he asserted continues to show strong positivity toward keeping the name.
Anderson agreed with Blanchard and spoke to the name Dixie as a real part of Utah’s story, calling it a very powerful brand that the school should not walk away from.
Anderson said that the school is doing well and moving in a very positive direction and if there needed to be any proof, the school’s parking problem was just one way to see that enrollment was doing well.
Addressing that very point, Sharp agreed that the university is doing very well at the moment.
“The university is going great,” he said.
So why then did leaders decide to address the issue of the “Dixie” name? Sharp said that as national conversations surrounding race and racism came to the forefront in the spring and summer of 2020, many universities became part of that conversation.
Sharp said they could have chosen to stay out of it or say “let’s be part of that conversation.”
It was in August that the university commissioned the impact study, he said, which was designed solely to measure the impact of the word “Dixie” and not as a popularity survey.
Sharp recognized that the data from the survey does show positive support for keeping the name, particularly among Southern Utah residents, but there were enough problems, major problems, he added, that the cost of not changing the name was worse than keeping it.
“A brand should never hurt,” he said, adding that it should only lift and expand and help.
One of the potential negative impacts of keeping the name that the study found was that graduating students were finding it difficult to get jobs or had to explain their university in graduate degree interviews.
“(There are) lots of indications that too many job seeking graduates are having trouble getting jobs,” panelist Christensen said, adding that while the university is doing well currently there are also several national indicators that the road ahead will be much more difficult to recruit and maintain prospective students in general, let alone with a name that can have negative connotations.
In the end, for Mills, whose job is to represent students, she said, it is all about what is best for the student body.
“You can’t have a university without students,” she said, adding that she believes the student voice should be the most important one.
Though Mills said she loves the university and is proud to be a student there, she believes that changing the name will only move the university forward in a more positive direction for the education and progress of the students.
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