Way down south in a corner of Utah a controversy has been brewing involving an institution known as Dixie College—so named because back in the nineteenth century Brigham Young established a colony there where, thanks to abundant sunshine, cotton could be grown and spun in order to provide calico frocks to clothe the prophet’s multiple wives. Slavery may or may not have been part of the equation, depending upon what you define as a slave. Unlike the American South, there were no pioneers of African ancestry in Utah’s Dixie, and there are precious few blacks living there today. Those precious few have objected to a name that brings to mind racial injustices of the past and the not so distant present.
Nonetheless, the Utah Board of Regents has voted to retain the name—this over the objection of board member France Davis, who is black. “Like arrows that fly though the air,” declared the Reverend Davis, “words do have power.”
I fully agree. Not only do words have power, so do letters. Let’s consider what would happen were Dixie College to change its name to, say, St. Georgetown University. Just think of all the whitewashed rocks that would have to be rearranged.
See, just about every mountainside in Utah has a monogram, which is maintained by whatever institution of higher learning rests at the foot of it. In the case of my alma mater that letter is a block C, which stands for Carbon College. Or perhaps it stands for Carbon High School, I’m not sure. Back when I was enrolled there, the two were very closely related. In fact, my sophomore and junior years were known, respectively, as grades thirteen and fourteen.
Instead of a mountainside, we had a cliff, which made for some rather scary whitewashing. Today, thanks to recently imposed safety regulations, the block C has fallen into disrepair—same as those brave climbers who once endeavored to put it there. Nowadays it looks more like—well, I don’t know what it looks like. But I suppose it doesn’t really matter, since Carbon College has since changed its name to the College of Eastern Utah.
The name of my high school hasn’t changed, which is unfortunate, because I don’t think the name “carbon” evokes excellence. In particular, it doesn’t evoke athletic excellence. It brings to mind such things as fouled sparkplugs, sticky valves and other contributors to substandard performance.
What makes it even worse is the school mascot: Dino the Dinosaur. Oh, sure, some dinosaurs are speedy and ferocious, but in my day Dino was a lumbering diplodocus. Which pretty much describes me when I was a member of the track team. I remember being overtaken by Rabbits, Leopards, Panthers, Mustangs—even Badgers! By and by I would hear the distant roar of the crowd as the thundering herd crossed the finish line. I would sigh and look down in despair as I struggled to put one foot in front of the other, leaving behind the imprint of dino tracks in the cindered surface. Perhaps in the distant future my footprints will be fossilized artifacts on display in the Utah Museum of Natural History. Sadly, in my own lifetime they were of no interest to anyone.