About 50 students made the 300-mile bus trip from St. George, in the southwestern corner of the state, to Salt Lake City for the protest and to meet with state senators about HB278, which calls for the university’s board of trustees to select a new name by November.
The bill passed the House on February 10 but had reportedly stalled in the Senate.
The legislative session ends next week.
Nursing student Abigail Scherzinger helped organize the trip and told CNN that the stigma surrounding the school’s name is a big concern for students.
“If students are having an issue getting hired after they’ve put at least four years of their life and thousands of dollars into their education, then there’s an issue with that,” she said.
Scherzinger, 20, is the chief of staff of the student government association and said she’s concerned that it might be harder for her to get into a graduate program outside of Utah.
“If you have been working so hard to get into the master’s program of your dreams and in your five-minute interview, they spent three of those minutes asking you about where Dixie State University is, or why you chose to go to a university called Dixie State University. I really think that that’s an issue,” she said.
The school’s board of trustees voted in December to recommend the name change because of the negative connotations that the word.
A study conducted for the university by the consulting firm Cicero Group showed that 22% of the university’s recent graduates looking for jobs outside of Utah have had a potential employer express concern about the word “Dixie” on their resume.
The name Dixie has represented the school for more than 100 years and carries a cherished meaning in St. George, where the university is located.
The community has gone by the nickname of “Utah’s Dixie” since 1857, when 38 families moved to the southwest corner of the state to establish a town and grow cotton, according to the university. According to Greater Zion Convention & Tourism Office, many of those families hailed from the South and they used the name to refer to their old home.
The name belongs to several local businesses and institutions in the area, even the local high school.
The word “Dixie” has become a part of the national conversation surrounding Confederate monuments, slavery and racial injustice inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement.
Senate President Stuart Adams told reporters on Wednesday that a Senate committee would debate a version of the bill that allows more community input into the decision before the legislature’s general session ends next week.
Gov. Spencer Cox said that name change was inevitable, according to CNN affiliate KSL and that he would be prepared to sign the name change law if it made it to his desk.
Sen. Don Ipson, who represents St. George, opposes the name change and said more needs to be done to build community support.
“The community has to have enough input to have a reasonable say and buy-in on it and we’re going to try to do everything we can to involve the community,” Ipson said.
A recent Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics poll found that 61% of Utahns did not want the university’s name to change. Twenty-one percent supported the name change and 19% were not sure.
Scherzinger said she loves Dixie State and the community and has had a wonderful experience and doesn’t want other prospective students to miss out because they’re put off by the name.
“I love Dixie, and we don’t want to change the name, but we have to change the name,” she said. “If it’s affecting students this much, we have to.”