Virginia’s State Board for Community Colleges (VCCS) wants officials at Dabney S. Lancaster Community College (DSLCC) and Patrick Henry Community College (PHCC) to revisit decisions to not change their names, according to a press release. According to PHCC Board Chair Janet Copenhaver, the VCCS board will change the name if the PHCC board does not.
“They sent us a letter back last week saying that they voted unanimously not to accept that name and that we had ‘x’ amount of time to come up with a new name or they would rename it. So they did give us the opportunity to spend some time to find a new name,” Copenhaver said. “There was no reconsideration of that name. The name will be changed, and if we don’t change it, they will.”
In July 2020, the VCCS board asked Virginia’s 23 community colleges to review the “appropriateness” of school names and the names of facilities, with a report due to the board by March. According to a press release, in the meeting, VCCS Chancellor Glenn Dubois said, “We have certain names on our buildings that many, I think, would say are inappropriate […]and those are names our students see every day[….]Some of our colleges are named after slave holders and segregationists.”
“Whereas, the mission of Virginia’s Community Colleges and their shared dedication to the principles of diversity, equity, and inclusion demand we examine the names regularly facing our students, faculty, staff, and supporters on their community college journey and determine if those names are consistent with that mission and those values,” the board’s July resolution said.
Officials at community colleges John Tyler, Lord Fairfax, and Thomas Nelson all chose to change their names, based on their namesakes’ support of slavery. In a May 20 meeting, the VCCS board approved the decision and asked school officials to report back with proposed changes, first reported by The Roanoke Times. However, DSLCC and PHCC officials decided not to change their names.
The VCCS board also updated its college naming policy, which says that 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.”
PHCC shares the name of Virginia’s first Governor Patrick Henry, who owned slaves and was famous for his “Give me liberty or give me death” speech. But Copenhaver said that the school was originally a branch of the University of Virginia, and was named after Patrick County and Henry County, which worked to bring the school there in the beginning.
“We saw no evidence that the college was named after Patrick Henry the person. Now assuredly, Patrick County and Henry County are named after Patrick Henry. At the college we found that the college was named after both of those counties,” Copenhaver told The Virginia Star. “That’s why we determined to keep the name.”
Dabney Lancaster served as State Superintendent of Public Instruction and President of Longwood College. According to a report from DSLCC, Lancaster was an acclaimed educator who fought for equal salaries between white and Black teachers. But he also opposed desegregation of Virginia’s schools.
“As former president of Longwood College, Dr. Lancaster ‘spoke against abandoning public schools but also declared that integration would set education back half a century. ‘We’ll fight it from the housetops, from the street corners, in every possible way,’ he said. ‘We are going to maintain our way of life,'” the report states, quoting The Burden of Brown: Thirty Years of Desegregation.
DSLCC Public Information Officer Dr. James Cook said that surveys conducted by the school suggested that the community wanted to retain the name.
“We have found in the research when you look at the segregation movement in that time, Dr. Lancaster was very interested in public education, and his decision and discussions were more about saving public education,” Cook told The Star. “The point of that is we don’t know fully what he said, but the context from some of the comments that he made were focused on public education more so than they were on maintaining segregation.”
Cook and Copenhaver said their local boards were planning to meet to discuss the name changes again.
“I’m so proud of Henry County and Patrick County, I’m a graduate of Patrick Henry Community College, so it is what it is, and we will move forward,” Copenhaver said.
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