Thursday, July 7, 2022

TNCC board recommends name change after unanimous vote

Student enrollment at Thomas Nelson Community College for the fall 2020 semester has declined 6.6 percent compared to last year.(WYDaily file/Courtesy of TNCC)
Months of historical research and discussion over a potential name change have led to TNCC’s board voting unanimously to recommend a name change at a Feb. 17 meeting.(WYDaily file/Courtesy of TNCC)

Thomas Nelson Community College may be getting a new name soon.

The college’s board voted unanimously to recommend changing the name of the school at its Feb. 17 meeting.

The decision comes after the Virginia State Board for Community Colleges asked all 23 of its institutions to examine naming and policies and procedures in July 2020, according to a Feb. 19 news release from TNCC.

Discussions of a name change have been in the works for months at TNCC.

On Dec. 11, more than 120 faculty, staff, alumni and community members participated in an online town hall for an update from Thomas Nelson’s College and Building Naming Task Force.

During the town hall, Stacey Schneider, a task force member and history professor, produced two videos exploring the history of the college and its namesake.

TNCC was founded in 1967, and before being officially named, there were two other names up for consideration: George Wythe Community College and Peninsula Community College, according to Schneider’s research.

And according to a Dec. 18 news release from TNCC, the reason the college was named after Thomas Nelson was that the Sons and Daughters of the American Revolution and the Thomas Nelson Society gave the college a scholarship.

Thomas Nelson Jr., the college’s namesake, was a wartime general from Virginia and a governor of Virginia whose family had significant influence in York County. Nelson was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, however, he was also a slaveholder and heavily involved in the slave trade according to Schneider’s presentation.

When the college opened in 1967, the buildings were given generic names, but in 1973 they were renamed after Nelson’s contemporaries. Those names are also being examined, according to the Dec. 18 news release.

But while each college has the authority to rename buildings and classrooms, the decision to rename colleges and campuses ultimately rests with the state board.

The state board will take under consideration the recommendation of the Thomas Nelson College Board when it makes its decision, which is expected in May.

While the board did not discuss a new name for the institution, it did recommend choosing a name that represents the geographical area served by the community college.

During the Feb. 17 board meeting, TNCC Professor Patrick Smith submitted a public comment from the Social Justice and Societal Change committee expressing support for a college name change.

An official letter from the committee was later released expressing further support for the name change.

“Our current College name serves as a constant reminder of, and association with,
the racial oppression Thomas Nelson, Jr. perpetuated and personally benefited from,” the letter said.

“The call for the removal of Thomas Nelson from our institutional name is not a demand to erase or change our history, but rather recognizes a more complete history, which includes the experiences of African Americans,” the letter added.

To read the full letter, click here. To watch the history presentation on the name of TNCC, click here. 

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