Some recent graduates of a Utah public university said they recently discovered that their alma mater’s name alienated potential employers by sending the wrong message.
The name doesn’t speak of academic excellence, powdery ski slopes or rugged national parks, but rather Confederation and slavery.
So on Monday, the university, Dixie State, officially offered to change its name.
It became the latest notable example of an institution dropping its long-standing name in a year of counting for cities, states, sports teams, manufacturers of household goods and even musical acts.
The university, which is located in St. George and has more than 12,000 students, announced that its board of trustees, along with the faculty senate and the student executive council, had recommended to the state that the word “Dixie” be deleted from its name. The university has not proposed a new name.
“We started to receive evidence that our name was starting to be a problem,” said Richard B. Williams, the president of the university, in a video message posted on its website. “The students said the name hindered their employment opportunities.”
The State Council for Higher Education must approve the change of name of the university. It was not immediately clear when the group would consider the proposal. A spokeswoman for the state’s higher education system did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Monday evening.
The university takes its name from the 1850s, when 38 settler families from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints sought to transform the area into a center of cotton growing. Many of them came from the south and the southwestern region of Utah came to be known as Dixie.
The university, located about 300 miles southwest of Salt Lake City, began as St. George Stake Academy in 1911 and has used several variations of the word “Dixie” in its name over the decades, becoming Dixie Academy in 1913 and Dixie State University in 2013, according to a timeline on the university’s website, prior to 2013 it was known as Dixie State College of Utah.
“We understand that this decision will be positive for some and extremely difficult for others,” Williams said in the video.
Supporters of the name change said the calculation for the university, which has grown its enrollment by 41% in the past five years, is behind schedule.
“I’ve been trying to get them to change their names for years,” Jeanetta Williams, president of the Salt Lake branch of the NAACP, said in an interview Monday night. “He was totally resisted.”
Ms Williams said the association of the word “Dixie” with bigotry and oppression was undeniable.
“You talk about slavery,” she said. “We are talking about the civil war.”
The announcement followed a two-month review of the university’s name by the Cicero Group, a management consulting firm commissioned by Dixie State University, according to a copy of the report posted on the website of university.
About 20% of recent graduates polled for the report said they had received negative comments from potential out-of-state employers about the university’s name on their resumes.
“At the heart of this discussion is a simple truth: There are different meanings for the word ‘Dixie’,” said Williams, the president of the university. “Locally, the term ‘Dixie’ is widely accepted, understood and appreciated. Outside the region, the meaning is very different and does not include inclusion and acceptance. “
Mr Williams added that the university’s name hampered recruiting opportunities and prompted some licensing partners to refuse to transport the university’s merchandise. It has also prompted some lenders to decline to bid on projects, he said.
“Despite how each of us personally feels, we have received overwhelming evidence that our name does not serve the best interests of our students, especially recent graduates who apply for jobs,” he said.