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State Board tells Patrick Henry, Dabney S. Lancaster Community Colleges to reconsider keeping their names

Henry was Virginia’s first governor and Lancaster, a long-time educator across the Commonwealth

Two area community colleges might be getting new names if a Virginia State Board has its way.
Two area community colleges might be getting new names if a Virginia State Board has its way.

Two area community college may be getting new names, if a Virginia state board has its way.

On Thursday, the 15-person State Board for Community Colleges announced it unanimously voted to direct Patrick Henry Community College and Dabney S. Lancaster Community College to reconsider their previous decisions to retain their names.

“We did extensive research before sending a recommendation back to the board,” PHCC Board Chair Janet Copenhaver says. “However, they still sent a recommendation that it be renamed.”

PHCC is located in Henry County, not far from Martinsville, while DSLCC is in Alleghany County, just outside the town limits of Clifton Forge.

Patrick Henry served as Virginia’s first and sixth governor and did own slaves from the time he was 18, according to Thomas Kidd’s book on him, “Patrick Henry: First Among Patriots.”

It’s why PHCC students will return back on a campus with a new name and brand.

“We have to quickly review their statement and come up with a new recommendation for naming our college,” Copenhaver says. “If we do not do this, they will name our college for us.”

Last July, all 23 community colleges in the state were asked to review their names for appropriateness. The state board saying in part, “Institution’s names should reflect the values of inclusive and accessible education with emphasis on diversity and equality.

Still, changing the name won’t be an easy or cheap task. The clock is ticking and PHCC isn’t the only one facing pressure to make a change.

Dabney S. Lancaster, a long-time education across Virginia, served as the State Superintendent of Public Instruction of Virginia from Sept. 1, 1941 to June 15, 1946. After that, from 1946 to 1955 served as the 17th president of Longwood University, which at the time, went by State Teachers College. Following his tenure there, became the chair of the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia. Over his lifetime, he served on the boards of Madison College (now James Madison University), Sweet Briar College, Virginia Theological Seminary and Episcopal High School. He would go on to retire in Bath County, where he served on the Bath County School Board.

During his career, Lancaster spoke out against the integration of Virginia’s schools, saying regarding integration, “We’ll fight it from the housetops, from the street corners, in every possible way,” according to a document published by DSLCC regarding the college’s name review process.

In addition to asking those two college to reconsider their names, the board unanimously approved the recommendations from 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.

Those three colleges are located in Chesterfield County, Fauquier County and Hampton, respectively.

The Board’s decisions are the latest step in a process that in July 2020 when it asked local college advisory boards to review the appropriateness of the names of its college, campuses, and facilities.

The Board, by policy, carries the sole authority to decide the names of Virginia’s Community Colleges.

In response to the Board’s vote, Patrick Henry Community College Local Board Chair immediately called four special-called meetings to discuss the policy change and to discuss amending its recommendation.

“I love the name and I love the community,” Copenhaver says. “I know our community wants to keep the name, however, it’s out of our hands. If we don’t select a name, one will be chosen for us.”

The special-called meetings of PHCC’s local board will occur at noon on Thursday, June 3; Thursday, June 10; Tuesday, June 15; and Monday, June 21. The Board will not be taking public comment at this time.


About the Author:

Jeff Williamson arrived at WSLS 10 in March 2016.