ST. GEORGE, Utah (AP) — Emotions ran high as Dixie State College removed a bronze statue of Confederate soldiers from campus, the latest skirmish for a school looking for a new identity as it prepares to become a full university.
Southern Utah was called Dixie by Mormon settlers who tried to turn the mild region into a cotton-growing mecca in the 1800s. Many argue the “Dixie” name and its Confederate symbols symbolize racism or discrimination and wouldn’t reflect well on a modern university. Others say the name is a part of history that should remain.
Dixie State College president Stephen Nadauld ordered the statue’s removal Thursday because “people had issues with it being on our campus,” college spokesman Steve Johnson said.
“It’s a valuable piece of art, even though we understand it has been a focal point of contention as part of this university naming process over the last couple of weeks,” Johnson said.
Dixie’s university transition has been tentatively authorized by the Utah Board of Regents, but school officials, community leaders, alumni and others haven’t been able to agree on a name. Some want to call it Dixie State University. Others have proposed Zion University, Utah Southwestern University or Red Rock University.
The statue’s removal divided St. George again. For 25 years, “The Rebels” by Utah sculptor Jerry Anderson has depicted a soldier on a horseback waving a Confederate flag with one hand and reaching out to a wounded soldier with the other.
“It looks like they have succumbed to the adversary,” Anderson, referring to college officials, told The Salt Lake Tribune. “They are a bunch of wusses.”
Former Dixie State College alumni president Connor Shakespeare said he saw more than just Confederate soldiers in the statue.
“I saw the greatest act of service one could render to another human being, and it was a pure form of self-sacrifice having one fellow soldier risking his life for another,” Shakespeare, a mortgage loan officer, told The Spectrum of St. George. “It’s too bad that there are individuals that felt otherwise. The only thing they saw was the Confederate flag instead of reading the poem or looking at it as a piece of art.”
St. George Mayor Dan McArthur said it was “too bad it came down.”
“To see that is kind of like ripping the heart out of us,” McArthur said. “I still think the piece of artwork was well-done.”
For others, the Confederate statue carried Deep South connotations.
“It just offended a lot of people,” said college student Kourtni Mietchen.
Another student, Ryan Mayfield, called the statue’s removal a positive step and “a big day in Dixie’s history.”
The 8,863-student Dixie State College is expected to become a university next year. The Board of Regents will give its final recommendation for the switch Jan. 25 in a meeting at the campus. The proposal then goes to the Utah Legislature for the added funding another state university would require.
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