HAMPTON—As monuments of Civil War icons are being toppled or decommissioned and public institutions are changing their building names to erase any association with historians who played a part in perpetuating slavery, Thomas Nelson Community College is also in the process of creating a new moniker.
The school was originally named after Thomas Nelson Jr., who is considered to be one of the U.S. Founding Fathers. He served in the Virginia Assembly, the Continental Congress, as the Virginia Commonwealth’s governor in 1781, and was a signer of the Declaration of Independence. He was also a member of the Virginia delegation and fought in the militia during the siege of Yorktown.
The consideration of wiping his name from the branding of a local educational facility stems from the fact that he also helped operate several plantations that relied on enslaved African Americans to build his family’s wealth.
In July 2020, Virginia’s State Board for Community Colleges (VCCS) launched an initiative to examine college and facility names in the wake of nationwide protests for racial equality and justice. In updating its college naming policy, the VCCS Board agreed college 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.”
Accordingly, the VCCS Board unanimously approved the recommendations of the local college boards of John Tyler, Lord Fairfax, and Thomas Nelson Community Colleges to remove their existing names and return with recommendations of what their new names should be.
In response, TNCC selected a task force made up of students, faculty, staff, alumni, board members, and community members to start the process. Surveys were conducted and town hall meetings held to gather public input. The College also worked with a recognized branding firm, Brand Federation, to assist in the development of a short list of potential new names for the college.
Thomas Nelson President Dr. Towuanna Porter Brannon, in a college-wide email sent in May, said the college wanted “a name(s) with lasting identity, that resonates with a diverse set of internal and external audiences, is aligned with the strategic vision of the college, and is informed by stakeholder feedback.”
During its regularly scheduled meeting on August 18, 2021, the Local College Board reviewed and discussed the following three recommended names from the College and Facilities Naming Task Force:
- Harbor Bridge Community College
- Two Rivers Community College
- Virginia Peninsula Community College
In addition, the Board voted to rename two buildings on the Hampton campus—Griffin and Wythe halls—that were named for associates of Thomas Nelson. Three other buildings were also named for Nelson’s contemporaries, but they are scheduled to be replaced by a new building in the coming years.
The Thomas Nelson College Board met in a special-called session on Wednesday, September 1, 2021, for the purpose of discussing recommended new names for the college. The board approved the name “Virginia Peninsula Community College” to be submitted to the State Board for Community Colleges for consideration during its upcoming meeting.
The state board is expected to vote on the name change at its September 22 meeting.