~ PVN staff report
(derived in part from a posting on the LFCC website)
LURAY, June 11 — One week ago, the College Board of Lord Fairfax Community College voted to recommend that its new name become Laurel Ridge Community College. Last Thursday’s decision comes after a directive from the state about a year ago to review the names of buildings and institutions, the subsequent formation of a names workgroup, and the narrowing of nominations down to five, and then three. The State Board for Community Colleges is expected to vote on the renaming recommendation in July.
In the wake of last summer’s social protests following the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer, the State Board adopted a resolution asking community colleges across the Commonwealth to review the names of their institutions, buildings and facilities to make sure they align with their “mission and values” and made all potential students and stakeholders feel welcome.
That resolution states in part, “The mission of Virginia’s Community Colleges and their shared dedication to the principles of diversity, equity, and inclusion demand we examine the names regularly facing our students, faculty, staff, and supporters on their community college journey, and determine if those names are consistent with that mission and those values.”
The LFCC College and Campus Names Workgroup soon formed and conducted surveys and research among students, faculty and community members that coincided with an assessment from a branding firm that LFCC hired as part of its 50th anniversary and future strategic planning.
The findings showed that few associated with LFCC felt a connection to its namesake, and 9 out of 10 were not even familiar with Thomas, the 6th Lord Fairfax, born in 1693 at Leeds Castle in southeastern England. Despite being heir to a land grant of about 5.5 million acres between the headwaters of the Rappahannock and Potomac rivers in 1719, Lord Fairfax’s descendants did not donate land, money or have any association with the founding of the community college in 1970.
Since geographical names, such as Shenandoah and Massanutten, had been taken by other institutions, the group charged with naming the “Region 15” community college in 1969 leaned on prior regional monikers given to the college’s service area, such as the Lord Fairfax Planning District (and subsequently, the Lord Fairfax Health District). In 2001, the planning district changed its name to the Northern Shenandoah Valley Regional Commission to better reflect the geographical area it served.
In the early 1740s, Lord Fairfax settled near White Post in Clarke County. He remained loyal to England during the American Revolution, despite hiring George Washington to survey and establish boundaries in the Blue Ridge and Northern Shenandoah Valley and serving as a mentor and supporter of the future president. However, one key historical fact that fueled LFCC’s renaming process amidst social unrest across the country was that Lord Fairfax owned at 97 slaves at the time of his death in 1781.
“The study showed that regardless of whether respondents were white or non-white, young or old, whether they had been affiliated with the college or not, once people learned about the life of Thomas, the 6th Lord Fairfax, they were more supportive of a name change,” reads a statement on the LFCC website describing the process. “The workgroup unanimously agreed, based on his history and lack of any notable legacy, that if the college were being named today, the group would not recommend it be named for Thomas, the 6th Lord Fairfax.”
When the name Lord Fairfax was submitted to the State Board for Community Colleges in 1969, it was sent back three times due to a concern over confusion with educational offerings in Fairfax County within the Northern Virginia Community College’s service region. The name was finally accepted with the stipulation that it must always contain “Lord” in the title.
The College and Campus Names Workgroup — made up students, alumni, faculty, staff, board members and business partners — met from August 2020 to January 2021 and offered regular updates to the College Board. Their findings lead to a Feb. 4 vote by the Board to rename the college. After soliciting nominations from all stakeholders and the community at-large, the list was narrowed to five names: Valley & Vista, Red Oak, Laurel Ridge, Valley & Ridge and Newbridge.
This list was then narrowed to three finalists Valley & Vista, Laurel Ridge and Valley & Ridge. Laurel Ridge won the College Board’s final approval on June 3.
“Laurel Ridge symbolizes the positive spirit and can-do attitude the college embraces. It expresses to students that everyone can succeed here. It also reflects the natural beauty of our surroundings and is representative of our entire service region,” LFCC states on its website. The statement goes on to further break down each part of the new name.
“The laurel has been symbolic of victory and achievement going all the way back to Greek and Roman times. Olympic champions were wreathed in laurel. More importantly for our purposes, the term “laurel” conveys academic achievement. Each year, millions of students earn baccalaureate degrees, and the term “laureate” is bestowed on those reaching the highest creative or intellectual summits, such as Nobel and poet laureates. Therefore, the name reflects our high standards and positive outlook focusing on student success,” the statement reads. “Additionally, the mountain laurel adds to the beauty of our area as it blooms in spectacular fashion along our parkways, in our forests and across various landscapes. This evergreen plant is native to the eastern U.S.”
“The second half of our proposed new name, ‘ridge,’ symbolizes the unique beauty of our area and is a tribute to the Blue Ridge Mountains, which connect the northern Piedmont region in the east with the Shenandoah Valley in the west,” the statement continues. “All of the localities served by us feel a connection to the Blue Ridge Mountains, whether they’re in the foothills, along Skyline Drive or in the valley. A ridge is also associated with the concept of achievement, and often appears in literature as a metaphor for reaching new heights.”
LFCC officials have stated that the renaming will have no impact on degrees or certificates. The former name will be printed in parentheses on new transcripts.
“The college has proudly served thousands of students over the past 50 years, and we value and appreciate the history and beautiful areas we serve. Employees have spent their careers working at LFCC, and students have found a new direction in life after completing our programs. Nothing will change those memories and success stories,” the LFCC statement reads. “The college will continue to honor and celebrate all of the graduates, employees and supporters who have made LFCC the outstanding college it is today. While the name may change, the programs and support we offer to students will continue to be part of the history of this region.”
News of LFCC’s new proposed name comes within days of an announcement by the board of Washington and Lee University in Lexington that its title will remain the same. The college’s Board of Trustees recently voted 22-6 to “expand diversity and inclusion initiatives”, but not change the name.
More information about the renaming process for Lord Fairfax Community College can be found here.