John Tyler Community College will be renamed Brightpoint Community College, scrapping a name it has held since 1967 because Tyler was a slaveholder and a member of the Confederacy. The State Board for Community Colleges unanimously approved the renaming of the Chesterfield County college on Thursday, as five schools said they will change names.
Ted Raspiller, president of John Tyler, said the new name is vibrant, reflects a warm, welcoming environment and embodies a commitment to diversity. And the college wants to be a bright point for the people it serves.
There was a disconnect with the name John Tyler, the president said. Some people didn’t understand why the school was named for John Tyler, unaware that Tyler lived in nearby Charles City County or that he is buried in Richmond’s Hollywood Cemetery.
After deciding in November to change its name, the college held focus groups and conducted a survey that received 1,400 responses. A task force of students, staff and other community members led the process.
“I was surprised how good the engagement was,” Raspiller said.
The new name’s approval comes a year after the state board asked community colleges to review the appropriateness of the names of their schools, campuses and buildings. In May, the board told colleges that their names should reflect values of inclusion, have an emphasis on diversity, and be relevant to their geography.
Raspiller said he couldn’t face the idea of a student not being educated properly because he or she couldn’t get past the school’s name. The college also considered the names Archway, Bellwether, Quest and Two Rivers as its finalists.
Kelly O’Keefe, a former Virginia Commonwealth University Brandcenter professor who consulted with the college, said thematic names such as Brightpoint often survive the test of time, even if they are panned at first.
John Tyler also intends to rename the campus buildings named for former Virginia politicians Mills E. Godwin and Lloyd C. Bird. A college spokesperson said the college would turn its attention to those name changes after its school renaming was complete.
Descendants of John Tyler have offered varied opinions on the removal of the 10th president’s name. The Tyler name also was taken off a College of William & Mary building this spring.
According to the 1850 census, the Tyler family enslaved 46 people at their home, Sherwood Forest. Frances Tyler, the great-great-granddaughter of John Tyler who has researched her family’s history, believes there were 200 or more slaves at the plantation during John Tyler’s time there.
Four other community colleges in the state will change their names.
Patrick Henry Community College, located in Martinsville, will change its name to Patrick & Henry Community College. The ampersand emphasizes that the college was named for the two counties it serves, Patrick County and Henry County, not the famed colonialist who was a Virginia governor and slave owner, said Greg Hodges, the college’s president.
Patrick County and Henry County were originally one county, named for Patrick Henry when he was governor. The counties later split, and they have disassociated themselves from the colonist, Hodges said. Patrick Henry wasn’t from the area, and there are no statues or iconography of him there.
The overwhelming opinion of the school community was to leave the name unchanged or to add a hyphen or ampersand. Brian Henderson, a vice president for the college who is Black, told the board he works for Patrick Henry the community college, not Patrick Henry the slaveholder. He said the name doesn’t bother him.
“I’m not working as Patrick Henry’s slave,” Henderson said.
The board approved the motion 8-3, with one abstention. Board member Darius Johnson, who voted no, called the ampersand a “marginal improvement,” saying the board needs to consider the next 100 years. He preferred a more drastic change.
Dana Beckton, another board member who voted no, said some people continue to uphold Patrick Henry the colonist and that such a slight renaming validates them.
The college also suggested Patriot Heights and Patriot Hills.
Another college, Dabney S. Lancaster, located in Clifton Forge, initially chose to leave its name unchanged. But when college leadership began to research Lancaster’s history, troubling details arose, said John Rainone, the college’s president.
Their research revealed that Lancaster, a Virginia superintendent, was the treasurer of a white supremacist organization called the Anglo-Saxon Clubs of America. After that fact surfaced, the college’s board unanimously voted to change the college’s name.
Lord Fairfax in Warrenton will change its name to Laurel Ridge, a nod to the Blue Ridge mountains and reference to the symbolism of the word “laurel.” People didn’t understand the old name, said Kim Blosser, the college’s president, and assumed it was located in Fairfax County. Changing the name was a challenging process, but she said she’s confident the school has made the right move.
“We are doing what’s right for our students,” Blosser told a board committee.
Thomas Nelson, in Hampton, will suggest a new name in September. The college has hired Brand Federation, a consulting firm led by O’Keefe.