Lord Fairfax Community College could become Laurel Ridge Community College. The name change was opposed by Rappahannock’s supervisors and other area elected officials.
Lord Fairfax is out, and Laurel Ridge might be in. Late last week the name selection committee at Lord Fairfax Community College announced their recommendation to rename the school after several months of deliberation. Virginia’s State Board for Community Colleges will decide in July whether to approve the recommendation.
In a statement released last week, the college wrote: “Laurel Ridge symbolizes the positive spirit and can-do attitude the college embraces. It expresses to students that everyone can succeed here. It also reflects the natural beauty of our surroundings and is representative of our entire service region. The laurel has been symbolic of victory and achievement going all the way back to Greek and Roman times. Olympic champions were wreathed in laurel. More importantly for our purposes, the term ‘laurel’ conveys academic achievement. Each year, millions of students earn baccalaureate degrees, and the term ‘laureate’ is bestowed on those reaching the highest creative or intellectual summits, such as Nobel and poet laureates. Therefore, the name reflects our high standards and positive outlook focusing on student success.”
The statement continued: “Additionally, the mountain laurel adds to the beauty of our area as it blooms in spectacular fashion along our parkways, in our forests and across various landscapes. This evergreen plant is native to the eastern U.S.
“The second half of our proposed new name, ‘ridge,’ symbolizes the unique beauty of our area and is a tribute to the Blue Ridge Mountains, which connect the northern Piedmont region in the east with the Shenandoah Valley in the west. All of the localities served by us feel a connection to the Blue Ridge Mountains, whether they’re in the foothills, along Skyline Drive or in the valley. A ridge is also associated with the concept of achievement, and often appears in literature as a metaphor for reaching new heights.”
Not everyone is happy about the name change. The Rappahannock County Board of Supervisors penned a letter earlier this year opposing it. “On behalf of the Rappahannock County Board of Supervisors, I write to inform you that we voted unanimously on March 1, 2021 to express to you and the State Board that we do not support this decision or the vote of our local representative to the LFCC advisory board,” wrote Board Chair Debbie Donehey in a letter addressed to Glenn DuBois, chancellor of the Virginia Community College System.
Supervisors in Frederick County, home of Winchester, as well as the region’s state and congressional representatives also voted and sent letters opposing removing “Lord Fairfax” from the college’s identity.
The renaming process began in summer 2020 after the Virginia Community College System asked Virginia’s community colleges to reexamine the namesakes of their campuses and buildings. Following widespread national protests against racism in the wake of George Floyd’s death, the board said they wanted to “focus a high level of scrutiny” on the state’s institutions.
“We have certain names on our buildings that many, I think, would say are inappropriate,” said Glenn DuBois, chancellor of VCCS, during a July 2020 board meeting. “Those are names our students see every day. … Some of our colleges are named after slaveholders and segregationists.”
Lord Fairfax, whose name has adorned its facilities in Fauquier, Middletown, Vint Hill and at the Luray-Page County Center, was a slaveholder. In February 2021, the local board of Lord Fairfax Community College voted 9-3 to rename the college. “There isn’t really a good rationale for why we have him as our namesake in terms of his legacy or what he did for our community,” said LFCC President Kim Blosser in a video addressed to the school community. “He didn’t have any connection of course to our college. … What we’ve done is make the college reflect positively for Lord Fairfax as opposed to probably what the opposite would really be.”
Blosser said the decision to change the name resulted from conversations about where the college is headed in the future. “Does … the name reflect our mission and our values and the students we’re trying to serve? … It really doesn’t reflect where we’re going in the future. It doesn’t reflect our values. And this is an opportunity for us to be able to find a name that better suits us.”
LFCC is joined in changing its name by two other community colleges in the state: Thomas Nelson Community College in Hampton, named after a member of the first General Assembly who was the heir to tremendous wealth from the Yorktown slave trade; and John Tyler Community College in Chester, named after the 10th president of the United States and a slave owner who was elected to the Confederate House of Representatives.