MIDDLETOWN — It’s official: Lord Fairfax Community College will become Laurel Ridge Community College, effective the 2022-23 school year.
The State Board for Community Colleges, which is the Virginia Community College System’s governing body, approved the name change on Thursday, along with changing the name of John Tyler Community College in Chester to Brightpoint Community College and adding an ampersand to Patrick & Henry Community College in Martinsville.
“Today’s decision by the State Board allows us to move forward in a way that acknowledges all of the great work that’s happened at LFCC with a renewed commitment to our students and our business community that even better things are ahead at LRCC,” college President Kim Blosser said.
LFCC’s board decided in February to seek a new name for the 50-year-old institution following a July 2020 request from the state board asking all 23 Virginia community colleges to revisit their names. The request came as institutions across the country were rethinking names with racist ties following protests that erupted after the May 25 killing of George Floyd, a Black man, by a white Minneapolis police officer.
LFCC, which opened in Middletown in 1970, was named for Thomas, 6th Lord Fairfax (1693-1781), a wealthy landowner who owned slaves and remained loyal to the British during the American Revolution. At the time of his death, he owned at least 97 enslaved people. He had a home at Greenway Court in Clarke County and is buried at Christ Episcopal Church in Winchester.
During the renaming process, LFCC board members indicated they wanted a name that would make all students feel welcome.
On Thursday, Blosser said, “As we begin our next 50 years, we are embracing a new name that better reflects our college’s positive spirit, can-do attitude, and welcoming culture. Laurel Ridge Community College exemplifies our mission to provide a positive, caring and dynamic learning environment that inspires student success, values diversity and promotes community vitality.”
She added that the 2021-22 school year will be a period of transition for the college’s name.
“You can’t just start using [the new name] from day one, there’s a process behind the scenes,” Blosser said.
Incoming students in the fall will be officially enrolled in Lord Fairfax Community College while the college works toward completing its transition to Laurel Ridge. Degrees will begin reflecting the new name during the 2022-23 academic year. The transition to Laurel Ridge will not impact degrees and certificates earned from 1972 to 2022. And the college’s former name will be printed in parentheses on new transcripts.
The new name is inspired by the region’s native laurel flower and reflects the proximity of the college’s four locations (Middletown, Warrenton, Luray-Page County and Vint Hill) to the Blue Ridge Mountains. It was chosen in June by LFCC’s board to be considered by the state board, following community feedback that was presented to the LFCC renaming task force on May 12. Other names considered were Valley & Vista, Red Oak, Valley & Ridge and Newbridge.
Blosser noted on Thursday that the laurel flower for millennia has been associated with academic achievement.
But some people in the community opposed changing the college’s name because they felt it was erasing the region’s history.
“Anytime you are undergoing something like a name change, there is going to be a lot of folks that have opinions on all sides of that,” Blosser said. “What was interesting to me through this process, I had tried to listen to those who had concerns about it.”
She said she noticed that most people who were against the name change were not current or former students.
Blosser said the college’s students were, in fact, supportive of the name change.
“I think, ultimately, that’s who we are here to support,” she said.
Even as the college’s name changes, its mission won’t, she added.
“At heart, we are the same institution that wants to help every student we can help and every business that we can help and that won’t change,” Blosser said. “Our mission is still to support our students. The reason we are here is to support this region and to help with economic development.”
The college serves the city of Winchester and the counties of Clarke, Fauquier, Frederick, Page, Rappahannock, Shenandoah and Warren.
John Tyler Community College will no longer be named after the 10th U.S. president, who died in 1862, as he supported slavery his entire political career, owned slaves and joined the Confederacy in 1860.
The ampersand is being added to Patrick & Henry Community College to denote that the college serves Patrick and Henry counties and is not named for Revolutionary War patriot Patrick Henry, who was a slave owner.