Advancing the Cause of Equity at Kent State University

Women’s Center director is focused on serving all women, and men, too

Despite her multitude of duties as director of Kent State University’s Women’s Center, Cassandra Pegg-Kirby remains focused on one key mission: keeping the center open and relevant.

“Women’s centers are not always thought of as necessary since women are in the majority now,” she said.

As Women’s History Month ends, Pegg-Kirby talked about her goals for the center, her role as director, and how she wants everyone to know that a women’s center is still important, needed, and not just for women.

“There is not always an understanding, particularly now that women are in the majority in college, that representation is only part of the equation. That even with 62% women students on this campus, it’s not the dominant culture,” she said.  

A women’s center is necessary now, to serve that larger student population, but also because the scales of equity are still unbalanced.

“The issues persist, it’s just that there are more women here dealing with those issues,” Pegg-Kirby said.  

Cassandra Pegg-Kirby, director of Kent State's Women's Center, pictured in her office in Williamson House on the Kent Campus.


There have been strides in access to education, but women, on average, leave school with higher student debt and often enter jobs where they are making less money than their male counterparts. Women make up fewer tenured full professors, and greater numbers of adjunct professors and instructors, she noted.

“I think there’s still a lot of things to tackle. If people don’t understand the inequity and they just look at ‘But lots of women are in college. What’s the issue?’ and you aren’t digging into the larger systemic challenges with gender and equity, you may not think there’s a need for a place like this,” she said.  

“But given our current climate and given all the legislation that is being put through in relation to women’s bodies, I think there’s a bit of a realization that if you let off for a while or look away for a while and think ‘We’ve arrived, we’ve done the work,’ it is just as easily taken away.”

Arrived at Kent in 1998

A graduate of Allegheny College in Meadville, Pennsylvania, with a degree in psychology, Pegg-Kirby’s first job was in the admissions office at Baldwin Wallace University in Berea, Ohio.

Pegg-Kirby comes from a family of many teachers and educators, so it was only natural that she found herself in a university setting. A few years later, when some of her co-workers joined Kent State, she too followed, accepting a position in admissions in 1998.

Over the past 26 years, Pegg-Kirby moved through various roles at the university, both full- and part-time jobs, to allow her the flexibility she needed to rear her four sons, even taking a few years off when her family life necessitated.  

While much of her time outside of the Women’s Center was spent working as an admissions counselor, she also worked a short stint as a dispatcher for the Kent State Police Department. She still treasures her time spent on that job for the lifelong bonds she formed with those in the police department, and she has an enduring respect for the community-focused work of the Kent State Police Department.

“I’m kind of a collector of experiences,” Pegg-Kirby said of her varied work history.

In 2012, Pegg-Kirby moved to the Women’s Center, serving first as assistant director, then as interim director, before she was named director in January 2018.

Adapting to the Times

Pegg-Kirby sees her role and that of the center as helping to remove any barriers to success for the students who take advantage of the center’s services.

“It’s my job to help remove any barriers that keep them from getting to what their goals are,” she said.

The students who come to the center, whether as interns or participants, are amazing, Pegg-Kirby says, and sometimes all they need to succeed is someone behind them offering words of encouragement.  

“Many times, all students need is someone saying, ‘Do it, you can do it,’” she said.

And while her advocacy is primarily focused on women, Pegg-Kirby believes that breaking down barriers can help all people, not just women.

“If I’m going to do the work, let’s do the work to help everyone,” she said.

The center typically has at least one male intern each year, and often male students attend events held at Williamson House, home to the women’s center. When the women’s center operated its food pantry, more men would frequent the building, she noted.

Center as Incubator

Over her 12 years, Pegg-Kirby has seen the center adapt and change with the times and students’ needs.

Students who are single mothers resulted in family-friendly study hours at the center, where women could study while their children had dinner and took part in educational programming.  

The women’s center’s food pantry, which opened in 2010, was the first pantry on campus to specifically help students experiencing food insecurity. Since then, the pantry has been assumed into Kent State’s CARES Center, within the Division of Student Life, which helps students meet their basic needs, including food and shelter.

Pegg-Kirby is proud of how the center has given birth to many campus programs like the food pantry, including mobile mammograms, which are now offered through Human Resources, and the Center for Sexual and Relationship Violence Support Services (SRVSS), which began at the women’s center and is now an independent center.

“We’ve really been an incubator for programs and opportunities across campus that are now part of the fabric of the institution,” she said.

Looking to the future

As she looks forward, Pegg-Kirby said sees plenty of issues that need attention – access to childcare, lactation rooms, Black maternal health, LGBTQ+ and transgender issues – but most boil down to looking at what creates inequity.

“I’m about inclusion and elevating the voices of those most marginalized. Our framework is to educate, advocate and empower,” she said. “It’s called women’s issues, but gender equity is a larger issue. Just like any other area where there is marginalization, everybody needs to be in the conversation. It’s about equity, but it’s for everybody. It’s thinking about populations who are most historically excluded.”

Pegg-Kirby remains focused on providing programming that is relevant and inclusive.

“I’m always thinking about what we can do to create an environment that says, ‘Everyone is welcome here,’” she said.

POSTED: Wednesday, March 27, 2024 04:47 PM
Updated: Thursday, May 23, 2024 10:24 AM
Lisa Abraham
Lisa Abraham