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Utah Senate will debate bill to change name of Dixie State University



The Utah Senate will hear a bill that would start the process of changing the name of Dixie State University, Senate leaders announced Wednesday afternoon.

This comes after political gridlock saw House Bill 278 stalled in the Senate after quickly passing the House of Representatives.

It also comes on the same day dozens of students rallied at the Capitol, calling for the Senate to hear the bill and change the school’s name.

Supporters of a name change say the term “Dixie” is problematic, especially in today’s political climate, because of its connection to slavery and racism. They say it can hurt students when they look for jobs.

“We love the name Dixie. We love it so much,” said Penny Mills, Dixie State student body president. “But the reality is that it has a different meaning outside of Utah.”

Mills and other students met with Senate President Stuart Adams (R-Layton) Wednesday morning as part of their visit to the Capitol. Mills said she told Adams “that the bill cannot be held.”

The Senate has been reluctant to take up the bill since it passed the House two weeks ago. Sen. Don Ipson (R-St. George) said he felt the community had been left out of the process and “hasn’t had enough input.”

But at a Wednesday press briefing, Senate leaders said the bill would be heard before the end of the session. 2News asked what had changed from the day before when they were unwilling to commit to hearing the bill.

“I think we were trying to work to that,” said Adams. “If you heard me yesterday, I didn’t say it wouldn’t be heard — hopefully I didn’t say that — because I thought we said we were working through the process. And part of that process is trying to find buy-in from stakeholders and from legislators and others.”

Adams went on to say, “I don’t think there was — at least in my mind — ever an anticipation that the bill absolutely would not be heard.”

The bill calls for a recommendation for a new name for the university by November that does not include “Dixie” in it, although the St. George campus could still be referred to as the Dixie Campus.

Senate leaders said they are still working on the specifics of the bill, particularly to bring more public input into the process. The legislative session ends next week.

“We’re going to get this right, I hope, at the end of the day,” Ipson said.

Deven Osborne, a senior at Dixie State who plays football, said “the name has to change.”

“Going back to California and wearing Dixie State apparel, it was different,” Osborne said. “A lot of people looked at me differently, like I wasn’t representing my community as a African American male, and it was hard.”

House Speaker Brad Wilson (R-Kaysville) has pushed for the Senate to take up the Dixie State name change bill. In an interview Wednesday with 2News, he talked about meeting with several business representatives from southern Utah Tuesday who want to see the school’s name changed.

“They would like the opportunity to have this decision made, find a new name, and move past it and invest in the future of the community and the institution,” Wilson said.

A committee hearing for House Bill 278 had not been scheduled as of late Wednesday afternoon.

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