ST. GEORGE, Utah -- After months of public and online debate, four names have been advanced for the inevitability that Dixie State College becomes a university.
Polling revealed the overwhelming top choice is Dixie State University, followed by University of St. George, Utah Dixie University and Utah Dixie State University. About 83 percent of alumni, faculty and staff, students and the community expressed support for the name. Only 17 percent opposed it, the ad firm hired to survey the new name said while presenting the results.
The debate over what to name the future university has been mired in controversy over the use of the word "Dixie." Supporters insist the name is tied to Utah's Mormon pioneer heritage, when settlers moved into the St. George area to grow cotton. But opponents point to Confederate mascots and flags that adorned the campus and racist behavior on campus in years past, including "blackface" skits.
"If you're not straight, white or Latter-day Saint, you're not even welcome here. They do not welcome me, they've never talked to me," said Roi Wilkins, a student at Dixie State who has opposed the name. "We work for them, we cook for them, we entertain and clean for them, but they call us outsiders. And we've been here as long as they have."
Wilkins spoke after the names were announced, surrounded by alumni who appeared displeased by his opinion.
"The majority of the people want it, why do we listen to people who don't care? This kid's going to be gone in 3 years," Dixie alum Maureen Booth told FOX 13 after Wilkins spoke. "We're going to all still be here. We grew up here. We love this place."
Presenting the names, Sorenson Advertising president Erik Sorenson acknowledged the controversy surrounding the "Dixie" name, and its association with the Civil War-era confederacy, slavery and racism. However, he told the crowd it would be easier to explain what "Dixie" is, than why it was removed.
Other words surveyed like "Red Rock," "St. George" and "Southwest Utah" connected the school to the region and gave the school more "academic credibility," but lost the local connection to the word "Dixie," Sorenson said.
The crowd broke out into applause at hearing the name "Dixie" was far and away the top choice. St. George Mayor Dan McArthur said he supported the top choice, "Dixie State University." Last week, the St. George City Council approved a resolution urging the name "Dixie" be included in any future university name.
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People's Salt Lake chapter has gone on record opposing the name.
"It's not a detriment to any student to have the name 'Dixie' on their diploma," said Dixie alum Ila Lundberg.
The names revealed on Wednesday are only recommendations. Dixie State College's Board of Trustees will meet Jan. 18 to select a name. They are also expected to announce the name at that time.
The state's Board of Regents will vote on making Dixie State College a university on Jan. 25 while in St. George. The Utah State Legislature ultimately approves the name and university status.