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By John Jones
and Dannelle Larson-Rife
We are writing on behalf of the Southern Utah Anti-Discrimination Coalition to express our views regarding the name change for Dixie State College as it becomes a university.
We strongly oppose any variant that includes "Dixie." The primary reason is the negative connotations of the term and the psychology of identity and marginalization.
For many in our community, the name Dixie is a link to a personal heritage reflected in this institution's roots in early Mormon pioneer history. However, a growing number of students, faculty, staff and community members are detached from this pioneer heritage and therefore are less likely to incorporate the college's identity into their personal identity.
Keeping the offending word may limit our ability to recruit and retain dynamic and talented students and faculty, in turn reducing institutional growth and vitality.
In many people's minds, the term Dixie conjures a negative association with the term "Dixie" and the Confederacy of the Southern United States. Some deny any connection to the Confederacy. Others contend the association is irrelevant to the naming debate.
We vehemently disagree. To this day, many people associate the term "Dixie" with a Southern cultural heritage that includes negative racial attitudes and the institution of slavery.
In former Dixie State faculty member Andrew Larson's 1992 text on the history of the name "Dixie" in Utah, the first president of the LDS Church's Washington Stake in 1857, was Robert Dockery Covington, a slave overseer and owner from North Carolina and Mississippi.
Larson writes that the fact that the settlers at Washington were bona fide Southerners who were steeped in the lore of cotton culture many of them, at least clinched the title. Dixie it became, and Dixie it remained. He called it a distinctive and proud title for residents of southwestern Dixie.
We believe that black-face minstrel shows (through October 2012), mock slave auctions (through the early 1990s), Confederate flags (continuing to the present), and numerous other associations to the Confederacy prevalent on this campus (The "Rebel" mascot as recently as 2008, True Rebel Night is ongoing; The Dixie Confederate Yearbook into the 1990s) in the past and at present reflect a direct and continuing association between the Confederate South and Dixie State College.
We cannot, in good faith, make a clear moral distinction between these reprehensible events and the name "Dixie." Thus we feel strongly that further distancing the college from the identity of the past, is, on principle, the right thing to do.
A lack of shared meaning and opposing emotional connotations toward "Dixie" set the conditions for marginalization and division. Consider the following component of our mission statement: "Dixie State College enhances its campus climate by promoting cultural and demographic diversity."
It seems disingenuous to make this claim when the very name/identity we present to the community and, in fact, the world suggests something very different to many of those same individuals. If there is but a single institution in this community obligated to reducing the marginalization of others, it is ours.
We believe we are more likely to meet this obligation if we leave the name "Dixie" behind.
The Southern Utah Anti-Discrimination Coalition is a group of faculty, staff and students at Dixie State College and community members in St. George concerned about the name of Dixie State College as it prepares to become a university in 2013. John Jones and Dannelle Larsen-Rife are members of the college faculty.