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Peninsula community college changes building name, recognizes Kecoughtan tribe



Virginia Peninsula Community College announced this week that it will change the name of Griffin and Wythe halls, which are connected and function as one building, to Kecoughtan Hall.

The college’s board chose the name to be “more inclusive,” acknowledging the original indigenous cultures of the Peninsula, the announcement stated. The Kecoughtan tribe were the early settlers of the land where the college’s Hampton campus is located.

“We will be working to change over the signage and other references to Griffin/Wythe during the spring 2024 semester. It will be a gradual process,” Steven Felker, vice president for institutional effectiveness and transformation, said in a news release.

The building’s renaming comes a little more than a year after the college, formerly known as Thomas Nelson Community College, officially adopted its new name during a wave of changes among community colleges in the area. In 2020, in the wake of a national reckoning on racism, the Virginia State Board for Community Colleges asked local college advisory boards to review the appropriateness of the names of their colleges and facilities. A handful of Virginia colleges eventually renamed their institutions.

VPCC’s College and Facilities Naming Taskforce — co-chaired by board members Izabela Ciezynski and Joe Fuentes and including representation from faculty, support staff, mid-level managers and student government — recommended no longer naming buildings after individuals but tying names to the region’s history or geography instead. The taskforce recommended Griffin and Wythe halls, named after Nelson contemporaries Corbin Griffin and George Wythe, be renamed. As part of the renaming process, the taskforce surveyed students, faculty and staff and received more than 300 responses.

Wythe, another signer of the Declaration of Independence, was a Williamsburg resident for a portion of his life. He was a lawyer and served as attorney general of Virginia. Though historians say he was an early advocate of abolition, Wythe owned slaves until late in his life. This summer, Richmond Public Schools renamed a school named after him.

Griffin was a Yorktown physician who served as a surgeon during the Revolution.

According to minutes from the college board’s April meeting, the taskforce presented two names for consideration: Kecoughtan Hall and Bridgewater Hall, which the minutes said would align with the college’s rebranding and logo, as well as reference the geography of the area. At the board’s May meeting, the new name was approved.

The taskforce also recommended only using one name, because Griffin and Wythe halls do not have a door separating them and “appear in many ways to be one building,” according to the news release.

“Taskforce members felt it would be easier to direct students to a single building that houses most of the college’s support services rather than having to use two distinct names they would need to remember,” Felker said.

According to the news release, the new name would also provide a theme to be used for future building names, including options like Powhatan Hall, Paspahegh Hall or Chickahominy Hall.

Three other buildings on the college’s Hampton campus — Moore, Diggs and Harrison halls — also were named after Nelson’s contemporaries. But because they are scheduled to be demolished and replaced with a new building in coming years, they were not recommended for renaming.

Virginia Peninsula Community College has two campuses on the Peninsula and serves Hampton, Newport News, Poquoson, Williamsburg, James City County and York County.

Nour Habib,

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