Ravell Call, Deseret News, File

Survey shows preference for Dixie State's current name. Other top choices? St. George and Deseret State universities

By Marjorie Cortez, Deseret News | Updated - Apr. 21, 2021 at 5:40 p.m. | Posted - Apr. 21, 2021 at 12:16 p.m.



ST. GEORGE — Nearly 47% of respondents to a recent online survey prefer Dixie State University's name as is.

According to aggregate results of the survey commissioned by the university revealed Wednesday, Dixie State emerged as most commonly selected name followed by St. George University, Deseret State University, Red Rock University, the Utah Institute of Technology and Utah's Dixie University.

Others were Pioneer State, Trailblazer, Greater Zion and Utah Polytechnic universities.

The survey identified six name types recommended for focus group testing: St. George, Dixie, geologic, academic mission, Deseret and Utah.

Julie Beck, a DSU trustee and chairwoman of the name recommendation committee, expressed gratitude for the community's "overwhelming response" to the survey, which was completed by nearly 14,500 people.

The survey's outcome "demonstrates, once again, their deep commitment to and love for our institution," Beck said in a statement.

"Our community has entrusted the name recommendation committee with the important task of narrowing down the field of ideas. We feel a deep responsibility to taking this charge seriously and preparing Dixie State University for long-term continued success," she said.

Though the Dixie name ranked as the top preference in aggregate name rankings and third in location-based names, the survey results reflected pros and cons of the name.

It was noted in the survey that while the Dixie name is unique, community-specific and incorporates aspects of heritage, "perception issues around the name could potentially hamper the two most important factors for future success of the university; academic reputation and job placement, as well as not fulfilling the legislature's mandate."

A proposed name change for the university was one of the most contentious issues considered by Utah lawmakers during the 2021 General Session.

A bill that created a name change process for the university readily passed in the Utah House of Representatives but stalled in the Senate, primarily over concerns that the St. George community had not had sufficient input on the proposed change.

In the waning days of the session, lawmakers passed a substituted version of HB278, which was described by legislative leaders as compromise legislation. Unlike the initial bill, which precluded the possibility of keeping the Dixie name, the bill passed by both legislative houses had no such requirement but will appropriate $500,000 for historical preservation on campus if the university trustees and the Utah Board of Higher Education recommend to legislative leaders a name other than Dixie.

The names of public colleges and universities are established in state statute, which means only the Utah Legislature has the authority to name them. Under HB278, higher education officials are expected to deliver a recommendation to legislative leaders later this year.

Discussions about the university's name have been going on for decades but intensified after protests across the country following George Floyd's death last summer while in police custody in Minneapolis, spurring a national conversation about racial injustice.

In January, Intermountain Healthcare changed the name of its southern Utah hospital from Dixie Regional Medical Center to Intermountain St. George Regional Hospital.

Last summer, DSU administrators commissioned a study by the Cicero Group to consider the impacts of the name. It found the university's name has become "increasingly problematic for our students and alumni" due to racial connotations, and it has hindered the university's ability to recruit students, faculty and staff. Moreover, it has limited its ability to build partnerships and obtain grants and funding.

Opponents countered that changing the university's name was tantamount to cancel culture and that, historically, the area became known as Dixie because Latter-day Saint pioneers came to the area to grow crops such as cotton that were cultivated in the South.

The survey results pointed to the upsides and downsides of other names.

Deseret State University, for instance, was the top preference among historical-based names and third in the aggregate.

"Deseret retains the DSU acronym while relaying a general sense of heritage and location." the document states. "Additionally, it is a term that is dear to many across the state of Utah, not just Washington County."

While the name would appeal to many Utahns, it would "have a hard time resonating with those outside of the state given that it's familiar to only a small subset of people in the nation."

The name St. George University, which was top ranked among location-based names and No. 2 in the aggregate, could be misconstrued as a "costly private Catholic school." Dixie State is a public, state-supported university.

However, the survey results note, "St. George is a distinct location, no other city in the country shares the same name, and it distinguishes itself from other Utah schools. This captures uniqueness, is well-liked, and plays on both the heritage of the school and location, all factors that matter amongst respondents in naming a university."

The results of the survey will inform the work of the DSU name recommendation committee, which will research the strengths and weaknesses of recommendations with respect to trademark and website availability, uniqueness, compatibility to the institution's history and academic focus, abbreviations and connotations.

Salt Lake's Love Communications, which conducted the online survey, plans to conduct 50 focus groups. The top three name themes are expected to be revealed next month.

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Marjorie Cortez

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