HAMPTON, Va. - Thomas Nelson Community College is getting a new name.
On a recommendation from the college's Local Advisory Board, the Virginia State Board for Community Colleges, on a recommendation from Thomas Nelson Community College's Local Advisory Board, voted Thursday to change the name of the school to Virginia Peninsula Community College.
“Hundreds of names were suggested as the College began consideration of a new name,” said Thomas Nelson President Dr. Towuanna Porter Brannon. “Narrowing the list of suggestions down to three was no small task. However, when speaking with diverse groups of students, faculty, staff, and alumni about the new name, one theme continued to emerge – ‘Virginia Peninsula Community College represents me.’ I believe we have identified a name that is welcoming, inclusive and representative of our unique region.”
Brannon added the new name has been a favorite of many since the TNCC began the evaluation process. It works on several levels. The Virginia Peninsula is the main geographic area the school serves, and the line “The Peninsula’s Community College” became part of the college’s marketing efforts after major rebranding in the mid-2000s.
“This new name emphasizes this college’s community and sends a welcoming and inclusive signal to the students they serve and those they seek to serve,” said N.L. Bishop, chair of the State Board for Community Colleges. “I commend the college leadership who led a thorough and inclusive process to examine the college’s name and move the institution forward. Community colleges are life-changing institutions, and we want every single person in the community to understand that he, she, or they are welcome here and we exist to help them move forward.”
Two other institutions in Virginia’s community colleges (John Tyler to Brightpoint and Lord Fairfax to Laurel Ridge) announced name changes in July. Patrick Henry Community College will be known as Patrick & Henry Community College in a nod to the counties it serves. Dabney S. Lancaster Community College also is expected to undergo a name change in the coming months.
In summer 2020, the state board asked local college advisory boards to review the appropriateness of the names of its college, campuses and facilities. The state board also updated its policy, stating names “should reflect the values of inclusive and accessible education articulated in the VCCS mission statement, with special emphasis on diversity, equity, and opportunity, and be relevant to the students it seeks to serve and to the geography of its service region.”
In February 2021, the college’s Local Advisory Board voted unanimously to recommend changing the name. Then, on Sept. 1, the local board recommended the name Virginia Peninsula Community College.
TNCC is named after Thomas Nelson Jr., a Revolutionary War hero, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence and the fourth governor of Virginia; he also enslaved people.
More than a year ago, the college established a naming task force consisting of students, faculty, staff, alumni, board members and community members, to learn more about Nelson. The school surveyed the community, hosted town halls, conducted research and created a website to gather and share information about the renaming process.
The task force, in partnership with consultants from Brand Federation, also developed criteria for a new name. One of those criteria was not drawing inspiration from an individual person's name. The task force also wanted a name that would reflect the geography of the institution’s service area, be timeless and offer a sense of belonging for all students, no matter their background.
Two buildings on the college’s Hampton campus – Griffin and Wythe Halls – are named for people who associated with Nelson and also will be renamed. Three other buildings (Moore, Diggs and Harrison) are also named for Nelson’s contemporaries, but they are scheduled to be replaced by a new building in the coming years.
Related: Hampton City School Board votes to rename 5 schools after local trailblazers
The state board is in charge of the names of its 23 institutions and campuses, while the names of buildings and campus facilities are determined by each institution.