To: Sen. McKell, M.,
Subject: From Dixie State Board of Trustees Vice-Chair Tiffany Larkin Wilson
On December 14th I had to make one of the most difficult, yet clear decisions of my life. The months leading up to it were filled with heartache, angst, frustration, and internal debating. I had known for months that if I voted yes on the issue, I would be facing immediate backlash from many friends, neighbors, and yes, lots and lots of strangers.
But I also knew that if I voted against the decision before me, I would knowingly be putting aside my personal integrity, and rejecting my commitment to ensuring the highest likelihood for success for our Dixie State students. But let me go back a bit for context…
I am a daughter of Dixie. And I don’t just mean that in reference to the fact that I’m a true, original St. George local. Rather, I literally am a daughter of Dixie – my mother, Dixie Larkin to be specific.
I’m also a daughter of Dixie because I was raised in St George, just like many generations of my family here in this area. I attended and graduated from Dixie Junior High School, Dixie High School, and Dixie Junior College. I even wore the Miss Dixie State banner for a year and had the opportunity to practically preach about how Dixie State was the greatest college on the planet. I believe that to this very day.
And, for the past 3-1/2 years, I’ve been honored to serve on the Dixie State University Board of Trustees, currently serving as the Board’s Vice-Chair.
So when it comes the topic of our Dixie State University name, no one can accuse me of not understanding the rich heritage of this area, the strong local attachment to the nickname, and the unique “local meaning” of the word Dixie. If anyone has a deep and lifelong love for all things Dixie (including my mother!), it’s me.
During my time as a Dixie “Rebel” back in the day (a term meaning a LONG time ago . . .), I danced on the Rebelette dance team, waved a Confederate flag at every football and basketball game, and have plenty of pictures of me hugging our mascot Rodney Rebel in his Confederate soldier uniform.
So years ago when I heard that the university had finally rid itself of the Rebel mascot and Confederate flag, I couldn’t imagine what the big deal was, and why it had had to be changed. For years after, I proudly declared that I would forever be a “Dixie Rebel.” But as I look back on it now, I am absolutely flabbergasted that we were so incredibly naïve. It’s funny how time teaches us things that aren’t always obvious in the moment. And if there was ever something I look back on with a sense of dumbfoundedness, it’s the fact that Dixie State clung so firmly to the Confederate symbols, flag, mascot, and yes – name, for far too long. Quite frankly, it absolutely never should have happened in the first place.
But in the iconic words of Maya Angelou, when you know better you do better. I can confidently say that we most definitely KNOW BETTER, and I am committed to ensuring that we also now DO better.
This past summer, when America fundamentally shifted on its axis and many of us faced a racial self-reckoning of sorts, I realized for the first time that it had come time for our beloved Dixie State to remove its long-debated moniker once and for all. And to be honest, I still grieved the thought of “losing Dixie.” But very quickly I had a powerful epiphany that changed everything for me.
WHAT IS THE RESPONSIBILITY OF A TRUSTEE?
As a Trustee of Dixie State University, we are literally entrusted with ensuring the wellbeing of the university and its students. Nowhere in my oath of office was I asked to swear to put the comfort and nostalgia of the surrounding community ahead of the wellbeing of students. Nowhere did it ask me to promise to always keep things the same because alumni who graduated 40 years ago might not have a realistic understanding of what happens outside the Southern Utah bubble.
Instead, I swore to protect the wellbeing and best interest of Dixie State University and its students, and to ensure our students’ ability to go forward with assets instead of liabilities. Even a university’s name can be an asset or a liability. And the last thing I want to be responsible for is stamping our graduates’ diplomas and resumes with what will undoubtedly continue to be more and more of a scarlet letter in our country in the weeks, months, and years to come. Anyone who believes that the term “Dixie” will ever go back to being a universal term of endearment (as if it ever was to start with . . . ) is blatantly fooling themselves.
This day has been coming for a very, very long time, and it really should have arrived long before now. But there is simply no justification for putting this decision off a single day longer. It’s time to cut off the last remaining connection to Dixie State’s own embracement of the Confederacy once and for all. The list of reasons for why this matters so much is endless, but at the top of the list and for countless lines below that is the most important reason of all – our students.
“WHAT’S BEST FOR THE PEOPLE I LEAD?”
This is an important question I had to answer personally, and that each of you will need to ask yourselves. Are we going to prioritize the familiarity and selfish pride of a community who don’t want to see things around them ever change? Or are we going to prioritize the wellbeing and likelihood for success of the very students that the university exists for?
I greatly appreciated the recent words of Boyd Matheson in a Deseret News opinion article when he wrote the following:
“The real test for any leader is discoverable in the questions the leader asks in quiet moments of personal reflection. Faced with momentous decisions with sweeping consequences, the true leader asks, “What is best for the people I lead?”
Setting personal interest aside to contemplate the greater good is the essence of leadership. Far too many leaders today are obsessed with a different question, “What is best for me?” Transcending self-interest is simply what we should expect from leaders in business, government and local communities. Selfless, servant leadership is what is needed in the nation.”
I ask each of you to consider this question as you ponder the critical importance of this vote. Some so-called leaders may not find the courage to consider what’s truly best for the students we all serve, even though your vote on this issue will clearly illustrate where you place your priorities. Do you cater to an old guard who fear change? Do you prioritize their nostalgic pride above the best interests of Dixie State students?
It may be true that many in our community will not like it if the name changes, but the only people who will truly be effected by this vote are the students. Simply not liking something isn’t the least bit life-altering – it’s just a minor inconvenience. But being discriminated against based on the name of your university CAN be.
In my favorite musical, Hamilton, the following phrase is sung throughout -- “History has its eyes on you.” I’ve pondered that phrase almost daily for the past several months. Time will continue to show us where we clung to antiquated and even offensive names, practices, and ideologies for far too long. I have no doubt that this will have been one of them, and am committed to being on the right side of history in regard to this landmark decision.
So I plead with you to prioritize the hundreds of thousands of Dixie State students who will come to our university seeking not just an education, but the best chance of future success for decades and even centuries to come. It’s our responsibility to remove this monumental barrier to their success once and for all.
With sincere thanks,
Tiffany Larkin Wilson
Dixie State University Board of Trustees, Vice-Chairman