University chooses to keep Williamson House and the Women’s Center in place

Sarah Limas

Kent State has decided not to remove the Williamson House–the main location for Diversity and Inclusion Leadership, the Center for Sexual and Relationship Violence Support Services (SRVSS) and the Women’s Center.

The university had planned to tear down the building and turn the space into a parking structure. The initial announcement sparked some pushback from the local community.

President Beverly Warren said the university changed its mind because of community feedback it received at meetings when the plan was first introduced.

“We went back to our consultants and said, ‘This is what we’re hearing from our community.  We would like to consider keeping Williamson House,’” Warren said. “We were able to reconfigure that part of the gateway plan to preserve it.”

Warren said the building has had issues keeping up with maintenance over the years, which the university first considered in its decision to remove the building.

“There were many people who felt that we should reconsider,” Warren said. “This is a historic building regardless of whether it’s in good repair or not.”

And, she said, “There were some who love the Women’s Center being in the Williamson House there on the front campus.”

The parking structure will now be located across Midway Drive from White Hall. Instead of being front and center on campus, Warren said it will be offset slightly.

The house was built in 1853. Kent State bought the house in 1942, and it was home to multiple past university presidents. Before the Women’s Center moved to the building in 2016, it housed the Alumni Center.

Roger Di Paolo, historian-in-residence at the Kent Historical Society, said he’s happy the building will remain.

“It was built in the early 1850s by William Gridley, a carpenter and millwright who sent three sons to the Union Army during the Civil War, which places it among one of the oldest residences in Kent,” Di Paolo said.

“The fact that it was the residence of five Kent State presidents: Bowman, White, Olds, Golding and Schwartz, makes it important in terms of KSU’s history,” Di Paolo said. “During the presidencies of George Bowman and Robert I. White, the president of the university hosted a reception for all incoming freshmen at his home. Imagine trying to do that today.”

Cassandra Pegg-Kirby, the director of the Women’s Center, said they’re happy to be staying in the building.

“This place does hold a spot in the community, not just Kent State, but in the larger community,” Pegg-Kirby said. “I think it allows us to sort of maximize that community building collaboration, working together, sort of a place where people can come together.”

The Women’s Center, founded in 1996, promotes education about women, gender and diversity. It hosts seminars and houses a food pantry, among other activities.

Sarah Limas is the construction reporter. Contact her at [email protected].