Patrick Henry Community College is back to the beginning about a name change – and this time a new name is not just a possibility: It’s a requirement.
If PHCC’s board doesn’t come up with a name suggestion, Virginia’s State Board for Community Colleges will choose a new name for it.
And the state board still could do that if it doesn’t approve of the new name suggestion from PHCC.
“We gave them our review back in February for their state board meeting, and our review was to leave the name like it was. But hearing that they [the state board] changed other names, I don’t think we were that surprised” at the mandate, PHCC Board Chair Janet Copenhaver said.
To address the issue, “I called four meetings in June to review this and select a name and to get input,” she said.
In July, the state board had asked local college advisory boards to review the appropriateness of the names of its college, campuses and facilities. PHCC underwent a naming review consideration process that involved research by committees, discussion by the board and input from the community.
Five of the 23 community colleges in Virginia are named after segregationists, slave owners and Confederates. Three of them have begun the process to change their names. The other two, PHCC and Dabney S. Lancaster Community College in Clifton Forge, reported back to the state board that they wanted to keep their names.
The state board did not go along with that.
On Thursday, the state board voted unanimously to amend its community college naming policy, a release from PHCC said.
This policy states 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.”
Patrick Henry was Virginia’s first and two-time governor from the 1770s who is remembered for his war cry, “Give me liberty or give me death!” He also had kept slaves, which prompted the review. Also, documents from the years of the college’s founding showed the use of a hyphen, implying that the school was named for Henry and Patrick counties.
“Even though the local board has shown that the college was named for its geography, not the person, the state board has concluded that the geography itself is still inappropriate,” PHCC President Angeline Godwin said.
This round of reconsideration in July “will be a fresh start, because the name that we suggested was to leave it as is,” Copenhaver said. “There was a suggestion that we didn’t send at that time, was to leave a hyphen in it.”
Now the PHCC board will meet to consider the issue on June 3, 10, 15 and 21, and recommendations will be reviewed by the state board at its meeting in July, she said.
“The state board carries the sole authority to decide the names of Virginia’s community colleges, and they are expecting us to recommend a new name, and if we do not recommend a new name, then they will select one” according to its new policy, Copenhaver said.
“The question is not whether the name should be changed, but the question is, ‘How do we go about selecting a new name, and what should it be?’” Godwin said.
Having the name changed is “a done deal. There’s nothing we can do. I hope the community understands that,” Copenhaver said.
The state board is the only entity that can name or rename a community college, but it gave community colleges the opportunity to suggest their potential new names.
There is no system for public input, but “I’m sure that once we have our first meeting, we’ll come up with a plan to have public input, just like we did with everything we’ve done,” Copenhaver said.
There were suggestions last fall to change the name to Foothills Community College or Regional Valley Community College.
But the closest PHCC came to a name change was the proposal to add a hyphen to create “Patrick-Henry Community College,” which some board members said would show the college is named for the two counties it serves rather that the historical figure (after whom the two counties are named). The board voted on suggesting that change, and it did not pass.
The PHCC board then provided a 2-week window for public comment, which could be made by email and phone and over social media.
Twenty-nine people responded. Twenty-three of the registered public comments were against any change to the school’s name, two recommended changing it, and two were unclear. The other two responses only addressed building names, supporting keeping them the same.
The board at that time also dropped the image of a Colonial man, keeping just the compass as its symbol, and voted to discontinue the outdated names of three laboratories which no longer serve their purpose.
Holly Kozelsky reports for the Martinsville Bulletin. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org