The renaming process for Patrick Henry Community College has begun – this time, like it or not.
Last year, Virginia’s State Board for Community Colleges asked Virginia’s 23 community colleges to analyze the appropriateness of their names.
PHCC’s local board sent in its recommendation to retain the name as it was, after initially considering adding a hyphen to indicate the school is named after the two counties it serves rather than the historical figure, who had kept slaves. Last month, the State Board rejected that recommendation and disallowed the names to continue for two other community colleges as well. The State Board also passed a requirement that each school name should represent diversity and inclusion.
The new 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.”
The PHCC College Board on Thursday held its first of four special called meetings to begin the process of coming up with name suggestions. The other meeting will be on June 10, June 15 and June 21.
All the local board can do is suggest possible new names. Only the State Board has the authority to choose the name.
Board member John McCraw made the motion to have the board participate in the renaming process because “I cannot think of having anyone from the rest of the state to name our college.”
Board members Wren Williams and Robert Haley voted against that motion, and the other members voted for it.
Williams said the Patrick County Board of Supervisors had sent a resolution, signed by all members, “to not change the name.”
Williams said he likes the current name, which represents both the historical figure and the two counties. “It saddens me that we’re seeing the individuals try to create this division that is just not felt in the region, and so it’s unfortunate that we’re going to try to cancel one of the great founders that we had in this country,” he said.
“It’s incredibly frustrating to me that this is what we’re focusing on, and I feel like it’s very destructive to our education and our set mission that we have for these counties, this community, and I am excessively in disfavor of renaming this community college and, going further, participating in what I believe is a very patronizing exercise, and I believe we should stand against this ‘cancel culture’ and make the decision that, no, we’re not going to participate in what you’re asking us to do.”
Said board member Gary Collins: “I totally disagree with the state of Virginia – agree with Mr. Williams on some points. But if we don’t change it – we have no choice – and they’re going to stick us with a name that we may not want at all. …
“I don’t want the people in the community saying, ‘Why are you doing this?’ Ask the boys up north. We have no choice,” Collins said.
All of the board except Williams voted to submit a slate of possible college names, ranked in order of preference, to the State Board.
College President Angeline Godwin, who is retiring this month, suggested the board considered new names that would remain compatible with the initials “PH” and other elements, such as “the Patriots, the Pats – most anything would probably connect to the compass” mascot.
The slate of names acceptable to the board, in ranking order, should be ready by June 21, Godwin suggested. Each name suggestion should be shown to match both the college’s mission and the State Board’s new naming directive of inclusivity, she said.
“There is no appetite from anyone that the new name be the name of a person,” Godwin said.
The college has prepared a survey in which people could submit their answers anonymously, with an optional comment box, to be launched right away.
The board will receive the first set of name suggestions on June 9 to be able to discuss them on June 10, Godwin recommended, with the goal of narrowing the list down to seven to 10 names. The next group of names would be given to the board on June 14.
The board would try to narrow the list on June 15, Godwin suggested, aiming for “a short slate of three” but no more than five, for a final vote on June 21.
The board moved, and then all but Williams voted to follow that timeline.
Barry Helmstutler and Collins chaired the team of financial analysis during the first round of name considerations, Godwin said, and she asked them to resume that role. “We have no funding stream for this,” she said. “We need to go back and look at the financial analysis on a name change again. I think we should look at it preserving PH, Patriots, Compass as one financial picture, and then not.
“I think it is very, very important that we just set our feelings of whatever it is about changing our name aside. We are not in the circle of control. We are in the circle of influence. We do not want to be sitting on the sidelines of the circle of concern.
“We’re going to need this home community and region to help us transition from 60 years of one name, and how can we overcome these challenges, and then stay focused on what we control? A new brand can be a powerful, powerful thing, and I encourage us to make it powerful.”
Holly Kozelsky reports for the Martinsville Bulletin. She can be reached at email@example.com and 276-638-8801 ext. 243.