The Virginia State Board for Community Colleges announced this week that it unanimously gave permission to three colleges -- John Tyler, Thomas Nelson and Lord Fairfax Community Colleges -- to change their names, which commemorate late political leaders and local landowners who owned slaves. The board asked administrators at the three institutions to come up with suggestions for new names.
The board also called on leaders at Dabney S. Lancaster Community College and Patrick Henry Community College to reconsider their decisions to keep their names. Dabney Lancaster, a former president of Longwood University, was known for resisting school integration in Virginia, and Patrick Henry, Virginia’s first and sixth governor, owned slaves, WSLS 10 reported.
The announcement about the name changes comes on the heels of an updated state board policy on college naming, which also passed with a unanimous vote. The policy specifies that institutions’ names “should reflect the values of inclusive and accessible education articulated in the VCCS mission statement, with special emphasis on diversity, equity, and opportunity, and be relevant to the students it seeks to serve and to the geography of its service region.”
Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College also recently announced a name change. The institution will be called Northwood Technical College starting in August. The rebranding comes after a 2020 market research study found that prospective students didn’t recognize “Indianhead” as a term for the northwest region of Wisconsin and were confused by the acronym “WITC,” according to the college’s website.
The name changes are in line with a trend of campus building renaming efforts this academic year. Nationwide protests last year in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder and widespread calls for racial equity and systemic and structural changes on college campuses prompted a slew of higher ed institutions to remove building names with ties to the Confederacy, slavery and racist ideologies.
Clemson University in South Carolina removed John C. Calhoun’s name from its honors college in June. Western Carolina University renamed an auditorium previously named for Clyde Hoey, a former North Carolina governor who was against racial integration. Princeton University took Woodrow Wilson’s name off one of its residential colleges and its School of Public and International Affairs for his role in segregating federal offices as president.
“Institutions far and wide are examining, and in many cases exorcising, symbols of systemic racism that have existed in plain sight for years,” Virginia Community College System chancellor Glenn DuBois wrote in a statement to college presidents after Black Lives Matter protests last summer. “I believe we must join this conversation and focus a high level of scrutiny on the names that adorn our facilities.”