Student Reaction to Name Change Varies | Thomas Nelson Community College

Student Reaction to Name Change Varies

September 30, 2021
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Thomas Nelson student Shawn Massey is glad the College’s name is changing. The effects, he believes, could reach far beyond the institution’s campuses in Hampton and Williamsburg.

“My reaction is the name change is going to be good for the community, get us away from what is considered not acceptable in today’s society, although it was acceptable back when he was still alive,” Massey said of the College’s namesake. “I think moving from that will help the community out since we have such diversity at the College.”

Autumn Smith, a dental hygiene program student at the Historic Triangle campus, is her last year. She doesn’t have a strong opinion either way but agrees the change could help those in the community.

“I’ve heard they want to do it so it opens up to more people on the Peninsula,” she said, adding she likes the new name. “That’s fine, and if it makes everybody else happy, then that’s cool too.”

Massey, who is president of the College’s National Society of Leadership and Success chapter, was part of a focus group that helped narrow the list of names from five to the final few. His group was among those who suggested Virginia Peninsula Community College.

“That was the one we were all hoping for,” he said. “It’s a great fit because the Thomas Nelson slogan has been ‘Peninsula’s Community College’ for many years. Changing the name to the slogan is beneficial.”

While he thinks the name change won't dramatically affect current students, he believes it might attract more.

“Who knows how many students looked up the name Thomas Nelson ... and it deterred them from coming to the school,” he said.

The decision to change the name, which has been in the process for more than a year, has had its detractors. Massey, who has a degree in Fire Science and is working toward another in paramedical services, sees their points of view.

“I understand where they are coming from because the social norms were different in his day,” he said. “But the important part is if someone’s done something wrong, we shouldn’t be glorifying them with a college name in a community that’s so diverse.”

Not all students have been as involved as Massey, and don’t see it as a huge deal.

Khalil Satchell started at Thomas Nelson in 2019 and said he knew of the person before enrolling. It didn’t factor into his decision, but he sees both sides of the issue. He said one drawback is the name change could cause confusion for those who already have decided to attend and are familiar with the name Thomas Nelson. He does like the new name, though.

“It could be a good change, it really could,” he said.

Kya King, a second-semester social science student, said since many other schools, including middle schools, are undergoing name changes, it was a good idea for Thomas Nelson to do the same, especially if the previous name was offending people. She likes the new name.

“It made more sense not to name it after a person,” she said.

Hope Goforth is in her first semester. She is unfamiliar with the particulars of the change but is worried it might affect her when she transfers.

“I’m so nervous about that. It’s one more thing to be complicated,” she said, noting she will have some credits from Thomas Nelson and some from Virginia Peninsula Community College. “That will be frustrating.”

She didn’t think the change was necessary, but she understands the reasons behind it. 

“But I’m not particularly upset about it either,” she said.

Smith doesn’t think it will affect the transfer process or the learning process. She’s confident four-year institutions and other transfer destinations are more concerned a student has the necessary credits and accreditations.

“They’re still going to learn the same here,” she said. “And other colleges will not be too worried about the name.”

While she said the decision won’t affect her, she does think the new name could open the school to more people on the Peninsula.

“That’s fine, and if it makes everybody else happy, then that’s good, too,” she said.

India Bazemore, a liberal arts student in her third semester at the College, also didn’t know many of the details. She said the topic wasn’t discussed among her circle of friends. She thinks the change is good, however.

The process began last year, and the approval of the new name became official Sept. 23 when the State Board of Community Colleges voted unanimously on the Local College Board’s recommendation. There is a lot to be done before the change takes effect. Numerous signs must be changed, along with logos, letterhead, email addresses, bank statements, vehicle registration, websites, foundation and scholarship names and etc. The College's timetable for the official change is undetermined but another state institution changing its name aims to officially switch in the 2022-23 academic year.

Timetable aside, Massey summed it up best. 

“I’m just looking forward to the name change to be fully done. It’s been a long process."