DSU Rebranding and the False Sense of Achievement

December 13, 2015

By Dallas Hyland at The Independent

Dixie State University is trying to rebrand its image with yet another campaign to change its mascot name. However, no amount of rebranding will assuage its false sense of achievement.

The school changed its name once before from the Rebels to the Red Storm and the mascot to “Red D” in 2009. This came after a push from within the community to move away from the Rebel and the racial undertones some associated it with.

It is fair to assert this was also an attempt to make the school more appealing in light of its then aspirations to attain university status.

The new name appeared to be but a band-aid on a festering wound, as neither supporters of a disassociation with the slave-owning South or those who felt the heritage of the name was warranted were assuaged.

Alumni and long-time financial supporters alike expressed their dissatisfaction, both in sentiment and in the pulling of financial support.

However, supporters of the change did seem to think it was a step in the right direction. For them, a ubiquitous and painfully obvious question is, of course, “What is it about this school that the image needs repeated ‘rebranding?’”

According to an article in the Salt Lake Tribune, the St. George school contracted to pay Love Communications, a Salt Lake City-based consulting firm, $50,000 to pitch three candidates for a new ambassador for the campus and athletics program sometime by this December.

Some of the impetus for this, according to associate athletic director Steve Johnson, could be that the school’s athletic departments are beginning to ask donors to invest in things such as the renovation of the football stadium.

In the above-mentioned Salt Lake Tribune article, Johnson said, “Having that nickname and that moniker,” whatever it may be, “is going to go a long way.”

On Dec. 7, an article in the school’s classroom newspaper, The Dixie Sun, released the name of six finalists. They are:

–The Raptors (Rocky the raptor)

–The Marshals (Marshal the mustang)

–The Rock Hounds (Red the rock hound)

–The Sun Warriors (Apollo)

–The Wranglers (Red the cowboy)

–The Blazers (Blaze the buffalo)

According to the above-mentioned classroom newspaper article, “The results won’t determine the mascot, but it will help the committee make its ultimate decision.”

The article goes on to cite that, “Jordon Sharp, chief marketing and communication officer, said the finalists are subject to be ‘tweaked,’ and are being shown so the public can have a general idea of where the committee is headed.” (“Committee” refers to DSU’s Identity Committee.)

The article further states that “Athletic Director Jason Boothe said a tough mascot is important when battling an opponent.”

This is likely the heart of the matter, especially when that opponent is public perception.

Quoting the school classroom article again, “Sharp said coming up with a brand that’s authentic, clear and marketable will help distinguish DSU from other institutions.”

A brand that is authentic, clear, and marketable. Does this infer that the school is currently none of those things? And not to get off track here, but isn’t branding a corporate thing? When did it become an academic criterion? Perhaps the school is trying to attain recognition it has not yet earned and thinks that marketing and branding is the solution to that. Should it not be more substantive than that when it comes to a university? It appears to be more about “buying” the credibility of the name instead of actually earning it.

At present, DSU is in fact well distinguished from other institutions of higher learning for reasons that this “rebranding” campaign may be trying to distract people from.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education has listed the school on its top ten list of worst free speech offending schools, an issue among others I have written about earlier this year.

DSU is couching this campaign in some carefully deflective rhetoric to have the community both local and at large believe its intentions are for the betterment of the institution.

Perhaps this is at least partially so. But perhaps its not a name problem as much as an actual authenticity problem as well as one of integrity.

When the semblance or appearance of accomplishment or achievement takes precedence over actual, bonafide accomplishment, the outcome is a persistent feeling of inadequacy that no rebranding can overcome. There is a malignancy present within the administration, board, and supporters of the school that will prevent if from ever being taken seriously until it is removed.

This malignancy resides in things like the ominous manner in which professor Varlo Davenport was painted in by President Biff Williams and many under his charge without a shred of proof, due process, or even obligatory decency. The blasé manner with which that incident alone was handled with such callous impunity almost naturally suggests that such behavior is modus operandi for the school.

There have been violations of free speech, attacks upon or back-room deals with dissenters of the implied status quo, questionable actions on the part of campus police. There is the fact that a school touting university status places little emphasis on research, let alone graduate programs — of which it has none — and it is disproportionately staffed with adjuncts for professors rather than bonafide academics — and the way to address this is to change the name of the mascot? Again?

Maybe some honest reflection would suggest that the name change should be less about the mascot and more about the name of the school. Controversy over the name “Dixie” not withstanding, how about something like “Dixie Junior College?”

Changing the mascot, simply put, is a transparent distraction from the more important issues that need serious attention. Watching this $50,000 show was tantamount to a first-row seat to a production of The Emperor’s New Clothes.

See you out there.

Schools: Dixie State University