‘We want people to feel welcome where they serve and live, and if we exclude some … that’s not who we are’
Declaring that “Lord Fairfax doesn’t represent anything we are about,” the Lord Fairfax Community College Board will rename the college to better reflect the vision and mission of its students and surrounding communities.
The rebranding direction of this region’s popular junior college “was a challenge that everyone took very seriously,” Vice Chair Mike Wenger, a Bean Hollow resident who represents Rappahannock County on the LFCC board, said in a news release the college issued on Wednesday.
It pointed out that Lord Fairfax, a wealthy 18th century Virginia land and estate baron, who also has a northern Virginia county and city named for him, “owned enslaved workers.”
The two-year college, which fields four campuses in Fauquier, Vint Hill, Luray and Middletown, said it will spend the coming months “searching for a name that will move us forward and stand the test of time, one that will serve as a welcoming beacon to all students, a name for which we can feel pride.
“A task force made up of stakeholders, including students, faculty, staff, alumni, donors, and board members, will work with our communities as we embark upon this task. Our goal is for the board to have a name to consider by this summer.”
In July 2020, the State Board for Community Colleges asked all of Virginia’s community colleges to review their names. After six months of study, focus group discussion and a brand research study the LFCC board voted on Feb. 4 to steer away from Lord Fairfax.
“From the start, it was a challenge that everyone took very seriously,” said Wenger. “The process has been comprehensive, disciplined, inclusive, deliberative, and, above all else, respectful of our responsibility for the history and future of the college.
“Hard-working groups reached out to constituents, dug into the records, read history, gathered data, and debated issues. We considered the overall college branding with an eye to the future. The process invited deliberations about the values we want to inculcate, the focus we hope the college brand projects, and the breadth of community-reach we want to facilitate. Though this decision wasn’t easy, it was in many ways clear.”
As recalled by the board, the name Lord Fairfax was chosen in 1969 — one year before the college opened — in part for its link to the region’s colonial history.
“The name also added consistency because the local planning district commission had recently adopted the name Lord Fairfax Planning District Commission,” the release noted. “Thomas, the 6th Lord Fairfax, was born in England, and would ultimately hold more than 5 million acres from Virginia’s Northern Neck to near what is now Pittsburgh. He would become a friend of George Washington, although his loyalties lay with the British during the Revolutionary War.”
According to author Stuart E. Brown’s 2008 book, “Virginia Baron: The Story of Thomas 6th Lord Fairfax,” the baron bought and sold hundreds of people, amassing a wealth of income from forced labor on roughly thirty farms.
Lt. Gen. Benjamin Freakley, who represents Shenandoah County on the board, stated: “Often, we just move forward day by day without thinking about our name, so this gives us a great opportunity to look at ourselves and determine who we are in relation to our values, our mission, where we are today as an institution, and where we want to go tomorrow. Lord Fairfax doesn’t represent anything we are about.
“Our students come to us from different backgrounds, but they value the opportunity presented by earning an education at LFCC. The college embraces inclusion, opportunity, equality, access to education, and helping students find their way forward. Our faculty is devoted to that. We want people to feel welcome where they serve and live, and if we exclude some part of our faculty and some part of our students, that’s not who we are, whether that exclusion is intentional or unintentional. I think for our students, for our faculty and for our future, it’s the right time to take this opportunity to rename the college and move forward, capturing all we have accomplished in the past and the bright future we have ahead.”
LFCC Board Chair Pam McInnis, who resides in Warren County, said the renaming, along with strategic planning and rebranding, will provide a path forward for the college’s continued success for the next 50 years. “It seems appropriate that these six months of self-reflection came during our 50th year and in the midst of a major strategic planning effort to lay the foundation for the next 50 years,” she said.
As for a new name, LFCC President Kim Blosser said it will ultimately better suit “our vision of an inclusive, equitable learning environment for every student, one that improves their economic mobility and supports the economic development of the communities we serve. And we will involve our employees, our students, and our community members in this process; we will do this together.”