This is an archived article that was published on in 2015, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Many believed Dixie State finally had earned a place on the national stage when it became a university two years ago.

But that bigger role has come at a price, drawing scrutiny to Confederate connotations of its name — a nod to the 19th-century cotton farms established by Mormon leader Brigham Young in southwestern Utah.

An effort to retire Dixie State University's current name is stirring after a deadly shooting at a historic black church in Charleston, S.C., spurred lawmakers to remove Confederate flags from government buildings across the South.

"I believe the majority of faculty want it to change," said DSU psychology professor Dannelle Larsen-Rife, who wrote a guest editorial for The Spectrum newspaper suggesting the switch.

Few professors are saying as much. Many declined interview requests or did not respond in recent weeks.

Still, a Facebook page favoring "St. George State University" has about 100 ''likes.''

"There's a climate of fear," Larsen-Rife alleges, among faculty who worry speaking out will cost them their jobs.

That reluctance extends beyond campus and beyond Utah.

Brooklyn Nets coach Lionel Hollins, who played two years of college ball at Dixie before transferring to Arizona State University, passed on the chance to weigh in, a team spokesman wrote in an email.

And in and around St. George, a backlash is bristling.

Retired emeritus psychology professor Nolan Ashman called for Larsen-Rife's resignation in a letter to the editor of The Spectrum this week, blasting her as "greatly ignorant" of the school's history.

"I just don't think she's a member of the team," Ashman, 80, said by phone Wednesday. "I think she would be happier if she went someplace that she felt more comfortable."

Larsen-Rife has said she respects and understands the region's identity, but that recent events have changed things. She also said she is "shocked" by Ashman's "lack of support for academic freedom and the First Amendment rights that are central to dialogue at a public institution of higher education."

Free speech or not, opponents such as Ashman contend the moniker honors the region's history and the Mormon pioneers who carved out an existence in the unforgiving desert. The area shared little with the slave-owning South, they say, aside from a temporary attempt to coax cotton from the red, rocky dirt.

"They were proud of the fact that these settlers came down to the desert and carved out a thriving community," said Marlon Duke, school alumni chapter president in Washington, D.C., and a spokesman for the U.S. Coast Guard.

Duke sees a need for dialogue about the rest of the nation's associations with "Dixie," he said, speaking on his own behalf and not his employer's. Still, he cautions against a "knee-jerk name change."

"It needs to be a deliberate conversation and not just a reaction to the latest headlines," Duke said from St. George, where he and his family were visiting in-laws. "The name really does mean a lot to people who live here."

Larsen-Rife's initiative is the latest flare-up in a debate that school leaders maintain is long extinguished.

Despite repeated requests for comment, Dixie State spokeswoman Jyl Hall said she could not make President Richard Williams available to respond to questions.

"Nothing has changed at the university," Hall said. "Our position is pretty cut and dry."

In 2013, college administrators bypassed the chance at a new name after donors and alumni threatened to pull support. Utah higher-education leaders and the Legislature approved — despite criticism from the state NAACP.

The school, for its part, formally apologized for having taken on its Confederate identity. Dixie leaders launched a minority-scholarship program and had already dropped other ties.

Sports teams traded in their Rebels jerseys for new Red Storm uniforms in 2009. And a statue of a pair of Confederate soldiers was hauled from campus in 2012.

But it's not enough, said Larsen-Rife — especially as the school seeks to bring more minority students to campus under its diversity initiative.

"It's disingenuous," said the professor, who stepped down as chairwoman of the psychology department June 30 after four years.

Though many are away from campus on summer vacation, some students have spoken up.

"The name doesn't make me angry," said RonJai Staton, an undergraduate at DSU.

Staton is the son of African-American and Jamaican-British parents who recently moved from North Carolina to St. George to be near Staton and an older brother who lives nearby.

"But if the university wants to grow and have higher diversity," he said, "I think it would be smart to change it."

An analysis commissioned by the school and released in 2013 by St. George-based Sorenson Advertising backs up that idea.

If DSU's plan is to keep "its primary area of service and influence" local, its authors found, retaining 'DSU' is the right choice.

If, on the other hand, the school's goal were to have a larger national imprint, the authors suggested, St. George University would be a better name "to capitalize on its university status."