SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A push to change Dixie State University’s name advanced Monday in the GOP-dominated Utah Senate after students rallied at the Capitol last week and urged lawmakers to revive a stalled plan to change the name.
A new version of the legislation was released during a Senate Education Committee meeting that would open the possibility of the Dixie name to remain and give the community more input on the name change process. Senate Republicans agreed last week to hear the legislation after appearing to stall the bill after it passed the House.
The amended bill calls for a heritage committee to be formed if the university’s board of trustees recommends a name change to help preserve the region’s history on campus, said bill sponsor Rep. Kelly Miles.
Sen. Don Ipson, the updated bill’s floor sponsor, said lawmakers had reached a consensus after receiving input from students and community members.
“With the substitution and removing the name Dixie from the bill, it now enables community input, which will preserve the heritage of our great community.” Ipson wrote in a statement.
The bill will now advance to the Senate floor. If it passes and is signed by the governor, the university and state board of higher education would be required to bring a new name recommendation back to the Legislature next fall.
Dixie State faced scrutiny in the past over its name but resisted changing it. The area was nicknamed Dixie, a reference to Southern states, when settlers with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, many of them from the South, tried to make it a cotton-growing mecca in the 1800s.
Supporters say the name is important to the area’s heritage and is separate from the history of slavery. But efforts across the U.S. to remove monuments, names and other Confederate symbols have intensified during the nation’s reckoning over racial injustice.
“A lot of people use the term without understanding the racial origin,” Jeanetta Williams, president of the NAACP’s Salt Lake chapter said during the hearing. “It is time to retire the name Dixie… with another name that does not reflect the Confederacy.”
Dixie State has taken other steps in recent years to remove Confederate imagery. In 2009, the school’s nickname was changed from the Rebels to Red Storm. A statue depicting a soldier on horseback waving a Confederate flag with one hand and reaching out to a wounded soldier with the other was removed in 2012.
Eppolito is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.