A presentation on Thomas Nelson Community College's namesake is available on YouTube featuring History Professor Stacey Schnneider's research.
More than 120 faculty, staff, alumni and community members participated in an online town hall Dec. 11 for an update from Thomas Nelson’s College and Building Naming Task Force.
All 23 VCCS schools are examining college and facility names at request of Virginia's State Board for Community Colleges. Dr. Gregory DeCinque, Thomas Nelson's interim president, established the task force to address this sensitive issue
Stacey Schneider, a task force member and history professor, produced two videos exploring the history of the College and its namesake. DeCinque said that information was an important place to begin the process.
“That gives us the basis to make good decisions, and without good information and good data, it’s hard to make good decisions, especially when you’re dealing with such a challenging topic,” he said.
Moderator Dr. Lynda Byrd-Poller, another committee member, said the reason for the town hall was “to present that information in such a way that we open the floor for dialogue, questions and just additional information.”
All involved admit it’s a complicated and complex issue. And there’s no guarantee a change will take place. While Nelson was a signer of the Declaration of Independence, a wartime general of Virginia and a governor of Virginia, he also was a slaveholder and heavily involved in the slave trade. When the College was named, it was a much different time, noted Schneider.
“In 1967, we’re kind of looking with a different perspective than we are in 2020,” she said. “We’re kind of looking with blinders on.”
She doesn’t subscribe to the theory that a name change would be altering history.
“We’re not changing history,” she said. “Thomas Nelson will forever be this revolutionary hero ... but he’s a slave owner, a slave trader.
“He’s a complicated person.”
A big reason it was named after Thomas Nelson was because the Sons and Daughters of the American Revolution, and the Thomas Nelson Society gave the College a scholarship. Two other names considered were Peninsula Community College, and George Wythe Community College.
When the College opened, the buildings were given generic names, but in 1973 they were renamed after Nelson’s contemporaries and cohorts. Those names also are being examined. The State Board is in charge of naming colleges and campuses, while each college has the authority to name its buildings and classrooms.
The committee also invited feedback from faculty, staff, students, alumni and the community. All were encouraged to watch Schneider’s videos and then complete a survey (deadline Jan. 11). Community feedback is important.
“We were looking to get input from a wide range of community so that we’re taking all concerns into account,” said Izabela Cieszynski, a College Board member and co-chair of the renaming committee.
Also on the committee are Cynthia Callaway (co-chair), Franz Albertini, Marian Clifton, Keisha Samuels, Dr. Patrick Smith, Dr. Lauren Williams, Mary Ann Maimone, Allan Melton, Elizabeth Tai, Jonathan Romero, and students Lizz Yimer and Sam Bevins.
Incoming Thomas Nelson President Dr. Towuanna Porter Brannon, who attended the town hall, agrees with others that this a great opportunity for the College, especially since not all community colleges across the country are having this discussion. She said it gives “us the opportunity to name this college something that is about who we are, what we value and what we aspire to be.”
For more information on the task force, and to view Schneider's two-part video, visit tncc.edu/renaming. A survey that will take anonymous feedback is also accessible from the link.
Survey responses will help inform the task force's work and its upcoming recommendations to the State Board for Community Colleges. The survey is open through Jan. 11.