Dixie State University has faced controversy over the years surrounding its name and history.
Dixie is a regional name for the Southern U.S., historically those states that belonged to the Confederate States of America. Although Utah was not part of the Confederacy, Washington County and the St. George area have come to adopt the Dixie name.
However, devotion to the Confederacy is written in DSU’s past. In the 1950s, Dixie Junior College adopted the Rebel, a Confederate soldier, to represent its athletic identity and often used the Confederate flag as one of its symbols. Students proudly waved the Stars and Stripes in their blissful ignorance, heedlessly promoting years of oppression and violence against African-Americans.
It is maintained that the Dixie name stems solely from Southern Utah’s agricultural history. According to a post by Coral Hills, LDS settlers pledged allegiance to the Union although they did not actively participate in the Civil War. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints named Utah’s Dixie for the warm climate and the Cotton Mission. Andrew Larson wrote in his text on the history of the name, “The fact that cotton would grow there, as well as tobacco and other semi-tropical plants such as the South produced made it easy for the name Dixie to stick.”
On the other hand, Utah historian Will Bagley argues, “The name Dixie reflects the sympathy that the southern Utah and the Mormon people felt for the Confederacy.”
Although there is no clear-cut explanation for the region’s nickname, it is an undeniable fact that DSU has been tied to the Confederacy in the past. Rather than trying to hide it, we should be open to discussion. The larger problem stems from not the institution’s name, but its controversial history.
Whenever I walk by the Snow Math & Science Center, I always notice “Rebels Forever” literally carved in stone on the benches. A lot of students just associate it with DSU’s former mascot. DSU’s new athletic identity, the Trailblazers, is a much better representation of DSU and its values.
Yet today, many people still hang the Confederate flag in their windows, or display it on their cars without understanding the slavery and oppression it stands for. In an interview with the Washington Post, Matthew Guterl, a professor of Africana and American studies at Brown University, explains why the flag is more than just a symbol of Southern pride and history.
According to the Washington Post, Guterl said, “Wearing the flag or celebrating it, putting it on your car window or coffee table in your house, it’s a reminder to everyone, to every guest, to every person who sees it, black or white, that you are a stakeholder in the Confederate history of the South, and therefore the defense of slavery and racial prejudice. No one is immune to this.”
So when the alumni who came through Dixie College before us waved the Confederate flag high and draped it around their shoulders like kings, they were celebrating not only history, but also decades of hate and discrimination. It is important for us to realize their mistakes so we do not repeat them, and so we can be educated about the symbols of our nation. Because isn’t that what we all came to college for, to become educated?