A ‘low-key’ revolution: 50 years of Title IX at Kent State

Part three of three: The path to equality for women in Kent State’s athletic department is not always smooth. A new director is charting his own path.


Joel Nielsen, who served as the Kent State athletic director from 2010 to 2021, watches the Kent State women’s basketball team play Purdue Fort Wayne on Nov. 16, 2019.

To read day two, click here.

Despite its successes on the field and in the arena for women’s athletics, Kent State’s road to equality has not always been smooth. During Joel Nielsen’s tenure as athletic director from 2010 to 2021, the university was sued twice and embroiled in other public-facing incidents dealing with the treatment of female athletes and women working in the athletic department. 

In February 2016, former Kent State softball player Lauren Kesterson filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court that charged the university and Karen Linder, her softball coach, with violating Kesterson’s Title IX rights.

Kesterson alleged in court documents she was raped by Linder’s son, a then-varsity baseball player. The suit alleged university staff members, including Nielsen, knew of the rape and failed to follow university policy in investigating the allegation.

Kent State softball player Lauren Kesterson throws a ball to first base during a double header against the University of Akron on Saturday, March 30, 2013.

The lawsuit further claimed Kesterson reported her coach’s cover up to former Deputy Title IX coordinator Erin Barton. The lawsuit states Barton explained she had spoken to and met with Nielsen, who had “intervened and prevented the filing of a formal complaint.”

Kesterson also alleged Karen Linder pressured her not to report the incident.

Federal Judge for the United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio Sara Lioi initially dismissed the case, but it was reversed on appeal. The case then entered mediation. 

In 2021, the case was resolved with a $100,000 settlement.

In March 2020, former field hockey coach Kathleen Wiler, a five-time MAC coach of the year who resigned in February 2019, filed a lawsuit against Kent State, stating in court records she was paid far less than male coaches in comparable positions. The lawsuit is ongoing.

In September 2015, Lyndsey Maurer, then-director of athletic communications, filed a Title IX sexual harassment complaint against then-Senior Fiscal Manager for Athletics Colin Miller. According to university documents, Miller left unwanted notes and candy in Maurer’s office and on top of her car. He also contacted her on Facebook. 

At a meeting before she quit in March 2016, Maurer said Nielsen told Maurer she needed to find a way to work with Miller or leave, which he said was the same thing he’d tell his own daughters. Maurer left the university soon afterward.

In September 2019, a field hockey game held at Kent State was cut short in the middle of a second overtime period to accommodate the football team’s pregame fireworks show, held in a nearby field. The teams were Maine and Temple, who played in a tournament event with Kent State.

The cancellation of the game received national publicity.

On Sept. 8, 2019 the University of Maine played Temple University in field hockey –the match ended as a scoreless scrimmage after it was called in double overtime to allow for a pre-game fireworks display for Kent State’s football team.

On Sept. 19, the National Field Hockey Coaches Association stated the situation “was extremely damaging not only for the participating athletes, their coaches, and their families but for all female student-athletes.” Kent State President Todd Diacon issued a statement about the “negative impact of the match cancellation” and said an investigation would be launched. 

No Title IX violations were found. 

In October 2019, a public campaign, launched by a group of Kent State athletics supporters and including a Change.org petition, called for Nielsen’s resignation based on the “damaged culture” in the athletic department. Nielsen did not request that his contract be renewed — he left the university in 2021. 


When Randale Richmond became athletic director in April 2021, he said he focused on elevating his female staff when he first started the job. 

Richmond added several women to higher positions within the Department of Athletics his first year as AD. Jessie Ely became the first athletics chief of staff. Suzette McQueen was recruited as the first woman-of-color senior woman administrator. Richmond said long-time staff Michelle Rura and Angie Hull were also promoted to higher-up leadership roles.

“We needed to find a way to right size the compensation for a lot of our female staff,” Richmond said. “We’re looking for the best talent and opportunity to support [women]. Part of that is students having leaders who reflect our student body.

Richmond also noted the improvement of the softball and gymnastics facilities, including new turf and an in-ground foam pit, respectively. Renovations began in the summer. 

Randale Richmond is director of athletics at Kent State.

Since 2015, Richmond served as senior associate athletic director at Old Dominion University where he oversaw NCAA compliance services and programming as well as student-athlete welfare initiatives, among other responsibilities. For 10 years prior, he worked for Kent State’s Student-Athlete Academic Services and Compliance.

As the head of the athletics department, Richmond said he recognizes women athletes need support from women administrators. 

“There are experiences that I as a man will not have,” Richmond said, “and sometimes, there will be a woman who can relate [to the women athletes] better. We go through a process that has that voice involved.” 


Despite an often unequal playing field, women athletes at Kent State continue to build a legacy of success, including 68 MAC championship/tournament titles. For the 11th time and second consecutive year, the university won the Jacoby Trophy in 2022. The award is given to the Mid-American Conference’s top women’s athletic program. 

Kent State will acknowledge the contribution of women athletes during homecoming, with events culminating on Saturday. Former players will be featured in the morning parade and at halftime in the football game against Ohio University.

As conditions for women athletes continue to improve, as women in general gain more access in athletics, see better media coverage and earn higher compensation, Judy Devine, Kent State’s first women’s athletic director, said the fight for equality is not over.  

“I’m hoping that today’s current student athletes, their mothers, their sisters, their aunts, their kids, can become informed enough about Title IX to know that unless they beat the drum, progress will cease,” Devine said. “For the sake of womanhood, we need to continue to ask the question, ‘Why are we not equal?”’

Isabella Schreck is sports editor. Contact her at [email protected].

Day one: Judy Devine, a pioneer in women’s sports at Kent State, played and coached during the beginnings and through the growth of collegiate women’s athletics.

Day two: From intramurals to 11 varsity teams, women’s athletics struggle, grow and evolve.