State board approves name change for community college
Out with Lord Fairfax, in with Laurel Ridge. Last Thursday, officials announced that Virginia’s State Board for Community Colleges (VCCS) approved the name change for Lord Fairfax Community College (LFCC), which serves the Shenandoah Valley and Piedmont regions of the state, including Rappahannock County. The name will officially change to Laurel Ridge Community College at the start of the 2022-23 academic year.
LFCC is among three schools whose names are changing next year. At the same Thursday meeting, the state board approved a proposal to insert an ampersand in the name of Patrick Henry Community College, making it Patrick & Henry Community College, to “[highlight] the names of the counties it serves,” according to VCCS. And John Tyler Community College in Chester, Virginia will soon become Brightpoint Community College.
The defenestration of Lord Fairfax began almost exactly a year ago. In July 2020, the VCCS board voted unanimously to instruct community colleges throughout the commonwealth to “review the appropriateness of the names of our colleges, campuses and facilities.” Shortly before the vote, VCCS Chancellor Glenn DuBois advised college presidents that “institutions far and wide are examining, and in many cases exorcising, symbols of systemic racism that have existed in plain sight for years. I believe we must join this conversation and focus a high level of scrutiny on the names that adorn our facilities.”
After six months of study, the board of LFCC voted in February 2021 to change the name of the college.
“The name Lord Fairfax was chosen in 1969 — a year before the college opened,” wrote Sally Voth, LFCC’s public relations specialist, in a February press release. “The original college board chose the name in part for its link to the region’s colonial history. The name also added consistency because the local planning district commission had recently adopted the name Lord Fairfax Planning District Commission.
Thomas Farifax, the 6th Lord Fairfax, was born in England, and would ultimately hold more than 5 million acres from Virginia’s Northern Neck to near what is now Pittsburgh. He would become a friend of George Washington, although his loyalties lay with the British during the Revolutionary War. Buried in Winchester, Lord Fairfax — like many large landowners at the time — owned enslaved workers.”
In a March interview with Rappahannock News, Chris Coutts, LFCC’s vice president of planning and communications, said that the name no longer reflected the college’s institutional mission and failed to resonate with its students. “This is not a political decision,” he said. “We were asked [by the state board] to consider, does the name reflect what we do? And no one says yes.”
While the Rappahannock County Board of Supervisors rebuked LFCC for its decision to “abandon” Lord Fairfax and several Virginia lawmakers urged the college “not to act” on the name change, Coutts stated that the community reaction was widely positive. “We certainly take [the opposition] seriously and want to look at it,” he said. “But we’ve also received tremendous support from folks in Rappahannock County who have written [that they] support what we’re doing.”
The new name was selected by a task force of students, faculty, alumni, community members and college board members who narrowed their choices to five finalists in May. Laurel Ridge was the favorite, but other names under consideration were Newbridge, Red Oak, Valley & Vista and Valley & Ridge.
“Since the State Board’s resolution to review all named facilities, campuses, and colleges was passed July 16, 2020, the college has engaged with hundreds of students, employees, alumni, retirees, college supporters, and community members,” said LFCC President Dr. Kim Blosser in a July 22, 2020 press release. “Today’s decision by the State Board allows us to move forward in a way that acknowledges all of the great work that’s happened at LFCC with a renewed commitment to our students and our business community that even better things are ahead at LRCC.”
Blosser explained that Laurel Ridge was chosen for its long-lived association with academic achievement, which has persisted since the time of the ancient Greeks and Romans. “As we begin our next 50 years, we are embracing a new name that better reflects our college’s positive spirit, can-do attitude, and welcoming culture. Laurel Ridge Community College exemplifies our mission to provide a positive, caring and dynamic learning environment that inspires student success, values diversity and promotes community vitality,” Blosser said.
“I applaud the hard work these colleges and their leaders have done to ensure that their institutions are welcoming and connected to the students they serve and the students they seek to serve,” said NL Bishop, chair of the State Board for Community Colleges last week. “As a graduate of a Virginia community college, I know how life-changing our colleges can be and I want every single person, regardless of gender, race, or background, to know that we exist to welcome them and help them succeed.”
Dabney S. Lancaster Community College in Clifton Forge, Virginia. and Thomas Nelson Community College in Hampton, Virginia. are currently reviewing their names and are expected to submit changes to VCCS this fall.
About the LFCC name change…
In our daily Rapp News text message on Tuesday (see below about how to sign up and share your thoughts!), we asked about Lord Fairfax Community College’s name change, which became official last week:
“I graduated from there and I believe all [these] name changes and … moment moving is just messing with history. This is money wasted that is needed for other things.”
“Sounds good to me.”
“How does the new school NAME ‘inspire student success … & promote community vitality’?
“I think it’s great. It’s responsive branding with recognition of their messaging and the demographic they exist for.”
“While I am quite honestly unsure of Lord [Fairfax’s] personal history of slave abuse, or not, I find it almost as objectionable that we seem as collectively determined to erase slave holders from history as I find it objectionable that white supremacists are determined to keep the facts of black history out of the public eye. Just one opinion.”
“A pointless feel good gesture that will have zero impact.”
“Pretty bland. A shame. History is re-written for the fearful. Afraid someone will be offended. Good grief.”
“Glad they changed it!”
“It’s a good name and long overdue.”
“Well, I liked ‘Red Oak’ better, but ‘Laurel Ridge’ is fine and [it’s] time to put this whole event — which should not have been a big deal — behind us and let the college focus on [its] important purpose.”
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