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WATCH NOW: Patrick Henry's name may get to remain for community college
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WATCH NOW: Patrick Henry's name may get to remain for community college

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Patrick Henry Community College may have misunderstood the State Board of Community College’s renaming directive – and may be able to keep its name after all, even if a hyphen or ampersand is added to it.

That was the message PHCC President Greg Hodges gave to the PHCC board during its regular monthly meeting Tuesday at the college. It was his first meeting as president, in the role vacated by Angeline Godwin, who retired in June.

Last summer the State Board directed community colleges to analyze their names for appropriateness. PHCC’s name was examined for either being after the Revolutionary War patriot who had owned slaves or from the two counties the college serves. There was consideration of adding a hyphen between the two county names, but in May PHCC requested the name be allowed to remain as is.

“The resulting action from the State Board came down with an approval of a state policy and asked the local board to reconsider that in light of the state policy,” Hodges said. “I think most of us interpreted that to be a rejection of the request to keep the name as is, and thus the special meetings were called to come up with the next iteration of what that would be …

“The idea hyphen was also included, and subsequently that was not approved, so we were all operating under the belief that both of those were rejected, and now we were moving forward with the next iteration.”

In the special board meetings, the board restated the desire to keep the name with the hyphen, but came up with two potential backup names as well.

Hodge said that during the weekend, Craig Herndon, the Virginia Community College System‘s senior vice chancellor for administration, finance and technology, told him in a phone call that “the state board has received all of the documents that have been submitted by our [PHCC’s] local chair and is grateful for the ongoing communications that have happened. …

“What he’s asking for now is the clarified position of this board that can be brought forward.”

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Hodges said when he asked for clarification, Herndon told him, “‘You all are interpreting the request to reconsider as a rejection of the initial request to keep the name as is.’ He said, ‘That is probably not accurate.’ He said, ‘What you were asked to do is to reconsider the name in light of the new policy that frontloads diversity, equity and inclusion, and states to the geographic location.’ He indicated that the information we provided indicates that the college is named for the geographic location.”

Hodges said he told Herndon that being able to keep the names “Patrick” and “Henry” in any manner in the name “has been taken off the table, and he said, ‘That’s not necessarily the case.’”

Given that new understanding, the College Board had to come up with “a clarifying statement” given a ranked order of request.

The matter should be settled for once and for all after Virginia’s State Board for Community Colleges meets on Wednesday and Thursday.

Hodges said he has met with 15 Black community leaders across the fields “because I wanted to take with me on Wednesday their voices. … Overwhelmingly, the response that I got back was either the name should stay as is or there should be a hyphen inserted between the two names, Patrick and Henry, to clarify the geographic designation.”

Several of them gave him permission to tell their names, “but I’m going to refrain from doing that because, candidly, I don’t want them to become lightning rods in our community.”

Some of their comments included: “It’s unconscionable … to spend a large sum of money on renaming a college whose name was never problematic to begin with;” “It is important that we differentiate the Revolutionary War, which strove to create a country that needed to evolve, from the Civil War, which strove to destroy the country that was in the process of evolving. The name ‘Patrick Henry Community College is in no way offensive”; and the name should rename the same but with a hyphen, because the college was named for both counties “so adding the hyphen accurately communicates this.”

The board then voted to submit the list ranking name options in order: First, keep the name as is; second, “Patrick-Henry Community College”; third, “Patrick & Henry Community College”; fourth, “Patriot Heights Community College”; and fifth, “Patriot Hills Community College.”

The approved list was set to be sent to the State Board Tuesday afternoon.

Holly Kozelsky reports for the Martinsville Bulletin. She can be reached at holly.kozelsky@martinsvillebulletin.com

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