Members of Sons of Confederate Veterans fire their rifles in celebration, Feb. 19, 2011 in Montgomery, Ala., following the re-enacting of the swearing in ceremony of CSA President Jefferson Davis on the steps of the historic Alabama State Capitol. Civil War re-enactors from all across the southern United State gathered in Montgomery for the 150th anniversary of the event. (AP Photo/ Kevin Glackmeyer)

The board of trustees at a college in Utah has unanimously voted to keep the word “Dixie” in its name despite critics saying the word has a racially-insensitive link with the Civil War era Confederacy.

The trustees were voting on what to rename Dixie State College (DSC), as the school prepares to gain university status later this month.

Following an impassioned debate, they chose the name Dixie State University from options presented by Sorenson Advertising, which had organized a series of forums and questionnaires to gauge public and stakeholder preferences.

However, many people expressed concerns that “Dixie” carries negative connotations tied to racism, slavery and the deep South. This feeling was exacerbated by photos from old school yearbooks, dating back to the 1960s and 70s, which showed students wearing blackface as well as activities that featured mock slave auctions.

Dixie supporters, though, say the name is rooted in the region’s pioneer heritage, not from any affiliation with the South’s racist traditions.

“Strong feelings on both sides of the name issue were identified and articulated,” said DSC President Dr. Stephen D. Nadauld. “It has been a healthy debate and airing of both our strengths and shortcomings.”

Following the vote on Friday, Trustees Chairman Steven Caplin, read a prepared statement acknowledging that Confederate symbols were once used by the school, including the Rebel mascot, but stated the school condemns racism:

“These symbols were introduced in the 1950s. … Over time the symbols were removed and have now been formally retired,” he said. “These symbols are part of our past but not our origin. Like a small collection from a large library, we’ve placed them on the shelves of history with bookends on their beginning and their ending. … We believe by replacing these symbols, we’ve honorably demonstrated our own social sensibility.”

The State Board of Regents is expected to vote on Dixie’s transition into a university on 25 January. If the change in status is granted, the matter will then go before the state legislature for final approval.

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