FILE – Undated 2021 photo of Dixie State University, St. George, Utah | Photo courtesy of Dixie State University, St. George News
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A push to change Dixie State University’s name is stalling in the GOP-dominated Utah Senate, after a new push to drop the term many find offensive sparked a backlash.
A spokesman for the institution in southern Utah told The Associated Press on Friday that administrators have been told it won’t be heard this year. University spokesman Jordon Sharp said the university is not sure why the Senate made this decision but hopes the bill will be revisited before the session ends in two weeks.
“University administration strongly feels this bill deserves to be discussed publicly on the Senate floor, where we are confident the bill has strong support,” administrators said in a statement.
Republican Rep. Kelly Miles, who sponsored the House bill, said he was disappointed it appears dead in the Senate.
Lawmakers have to approve the name change because Dixie State is a public university. The university has not yet chosen a new name.
Republican Sen. Don Ipson, who represents part of southern Utah, said negotiations around the bill are ongoing but it is unclear if an agreement will be reached before the session ends.
“The community is not ready to give up the name by and large,” Ipson told reporters.
Lauren Simpson, with the left-leaning group Alliance for a Better Utah, said lawmakers are “standing in the way of progress and inclusivity” by not hearing the bill.
“If Senators wish to kill the bill, they should have the courage to do it publicly with a vote,” Simpson said in a written statement.
The proposal has already passed the state House amid a national reexamination of the remnants of the Confederacy and slavery. A study found employers find the name concerning and confusing outside of Utah, where it’s a regional nickname dating back more than a century.
The name has long drawn scrutiny, but a previous 2013 push to change it failed when the school board voted against it. But in the in the wake of the nation’s racial reckoning last summer, institutions throughout St. George have reconsidered the Dixie name.
The university’s board of trustees voted to change it in December, which was also supported by the higher education board.
But many local residents and others want to keep the name, saying it’s tied to state history, not slavery, and they’ve been putting pressure on Republican lawmakers to kill the idea.
Dixie State, located about 300 miles (480 kilometers) south of Salt Lake City in St. George, was nicknamed Dixie, a reference to Southern states, when settlers with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, many of them from the South, tried to make it a cotton-growing mecca in the 1800s.
The school has used Confederate imagery in the past. It changed its nickname from the Rebels to Red Storm in 2009 and removed a Confederate soldier statue in 2012.
Eppolito is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.