MIDDLETOWN — Lord Fairfax Community College is pressing forward to change its name after sharing how it came to the decision during an hour-long town hall held via Zoom and telephone Thursday night.
Nearly 110 people attended the event.
Lt. Gen. Benjamin Freakley, a member of the LFCC College Board, told the audience it "wasn't a hasty decision."
"We had 50 wonderful years of Lord Fairfax," Freakley said about the college founded in Middletown in 1970. "And we honor and respect those years."
He continued that the decision was driven by a desire to make everyone feel welcome at LFCC moving forward.
"Like it or not, we are in an era of questioning, of asking about who is America, what do we stand for, what do we align ourselves with," Freakley said. "We respect the past, but where we are today is looking at the future."
Freakley said he's proud of the decision and that "it's time to move forward" and select a new name.
In February, following six months of study and discussions, the LFCC board voted 9-3 to seek a new name that better reflects the college's mission and values. The study was prompted by a July 2020 request from the State Board for Community Colleges asking all 23 Virginia community colleges to revisit their names. The request came as institutions across the U.S. were reconsidering names with racist ties following the May 25 killing of George Floyd, a Black man, by a white Minneapolis police officer.
Freakley emphasized that the decision to explore a name change was in response to the state-level request. Committees were formed to evaluate building names on LFCC campuses and the potential cost to change those names.
LFCC's namesake, Thomas, the 6th Lord Fairfax, was a slave owner who remained loyal to the British during the American Revolution. A Scot, he came to colonial America in the 18th century. From his home in White Post in Clarke County, he administered his vast Northern Neck Proprietary — a Virginia land grant dating back to the 1600s. At the time of his death, he owned at least 97 enslaved people. He is buried at Christ Episcopal Church in Winchester.
Prior to the LFCC board vote earlier this year, a survey of staff, students, donors, alumni and some community members found that 90% of respondents knew nothing about Lord Fairfax. Once they learned about his history, an overwhelming majority indicated the name should be changed, Freakley said.
LFCC officials also evaluated the risks of changing the college's name, including potential impacts on student enrollment and possibly disassociating alumni, donors and former staff.
Last week, the Frederick County Board of Supervisors voted 5-1 to send a letter to the State Board for Community Colleges objecting to the name change.
LFCC President Kim Blosser acknowledged during the town hall that changing the college's name may feel "like a real loss" to former students and staff.
"For some of our alums and for some of our retirees, it will always be Lord Fairfax in their minds," Blosser said. "But for our new students and for moving forward and for our goal to always be inclusive and welcoming to all of our students, this new name is going to give us a new start and it's a new way to start our next 50 years."
The list of potential new names has been narrowed to five finalists: Valley & Vista Community College, Red Oak Community College, Laurel Ridge Community College, Valley & Ridge Community College and Newbridge Community College.
Kelly O'Keefe, CEO of Brand Federation, who is working with LFCC during the renaming process, explained the new name must: have potential to unite the service region; honor the distinct beauty and culture of LFCC's service area; celebrate the unique background and experiences of each community college member; inspire student engagement and learning; communicate the timeless relevance befitting a high-quality educational institution; reflects the college's positive spirit and can-do values, and draw inspiration from the college's mission, vision and value — not an individual's name.
O'Keefe said the new name should celebrate not just one person's accomplishments but the community's accomplishments as a whole.
During the town hall, one person asked "how was community brought into this process without consulting the Board of Supervisors of each county before the decision to rename was made?"
LFCC serves Winchester and the counties of Frederick, Fauquier, Page, Shenandoah, Rappahannock, Clarke and Warren.
Blosser said there were community roundtable discussions and a survey sent out — LFCC announced the survey and review period to its 700 staff members — but she did not contact all the Boards of Supervisors during the study period.
Another person asked why the college did not better communicate to the community that it was exploring the option to change its name when it was surveying and researching the possibility for six months.
Blosser replied that the college had to review an estimated 70 names on LFCC buildings at its multiple campuses in response to the state resolution. She said the college wanted its research to be thorough before making any public announcements to be sensitive to the other names being reviewed during the process.
"We did not put it in the newspaper that we were reviewing all names of the college, as much as anything because we were reviewing all names and people that were in our community that had names on some of our buildings," Blosser said.
Blosser previously told The Star that it will cost between $115,400 to $297,950 to change LFCC's name. She said no local funds would go toward the renaming.
All community feedback from the town hall and online submissions will be presented to the LFCC naming task force on May 12. From there, the task force will narrow down the top five names to three and present them to Blosser. Those names will then go through a rigorous trademark review and then go to the State Board for Community Colleges for final review.
To submit questions or comments on the new name or renaming process, visit lfcc.edu/college-naming