ST. GEORGE, Utah -- FOX 13 News has learned Dixie State College officials are contemplating issuing an apology next week for decades of racist incidents on campus.
It comes as the college is embroiled in a heated debate over whether to include the name "Dixie" when the school becomes a university at the end of the month. Supporters say the name is tied to southwestern Utah's founding when Mormon pioneers moved here to grow cotton. Opponents insist the word is rooted in the Civil War Confederacy and racism.
On Wednesday, an advertising firm hired by the college to survey a new name for the college presented its findings. An overwhelming number (83 percent) supported the name "Dixie." But Sorenson Advertising also noted it will be difficult to distinguish "Utah's Dixie" from "Confederate Dixie."
"Just because they're living in southern Utah doesn't mean that the word slavery and the Civil War didn't exist," said Jeanetta Williams, the president of the Salt Lake Chapter of the NAACP.
St. George community activists gave FOX 13 a number of pictures taken from 40 years of yearbooks at Dixie State College. Those yearbooks were entitled "The Confederate." They showed students hoisting the confederate flag, students performing skits in blackface, and even portraying slaves on parade floats.
Now, Dixie State College officials are considering an apology for those incidents dating back to the 1960s. At next week's Board of Trustees meeting, school officials will choose a name and an "acknowledgment" will be made.
"An acknowledgment will definitely come," said Dixie State spokesman Steve Johnson. "An apology could happen as well. Obviously, events that happened on this campus 30, 40, 50 years ago ... obviously, the activities and events that were portrayed in our yearbooks by students back then are obviously things that are socially unacceptable today."
In recent years, Dixie State College has apparently been trying to bury its controversial past. They did away with the "Rebel" mascot and became the "Red Storm." A few weeks ago, a statute on campus of Confederate soldiers was removed from campus.
"Even with the statues being gone, there's Confederate memorabilia," said Roi Wilkins, a Dixie State College student who opposes the "Dixie" name. "You go into the old gym and there's (pictures of) guys wearing Confederate shirts. You've just got to get all that stuff out and say 'sorry,' and we're good."
Wilkins said a formal apology may not persuade him to embrace the name "Dixie" in the school's name, but it would help. The NAACP has already gone on record opposing the name for the future university.
"Just because they're living in St. George and they're used to having it called 'Dixie' doesn't mean it will have to stay that way," said Williams.
Supporters insist that whatever happened on the campus is "in the past." Some who spoke to FOX 13 after a series of names were unveiled decried "political correctness" in the name controversy. St. George Mayor Dan McArthur, who backed a resolution by the city council insisting that "Dixie" remain in the name, said he was unsure if an apology was necessary -- or if it would appease critics.
"That's all a thing of the past," McArthur told FOX 13. "I think we've got to go forward with the positive things that we have, because none of us condone that."
The names being recommended to the Board of Trustees are: Dixie State University, University of St. George, Utah Dixie University and Utah Dixie State University.