Kent State women share stories of survival and triumph

Regan Schell

The fourth annual SAGE Project award ceremony began with laughter and snaps of agreement as Dr. Timeka Rashid, Associate Dean of Students, shared a video from author and public speaker Lisa Nichols.

“Let your light shine!” Nichols exclaimed, urging the crowd to ignore the naysayers. “They can only love you to the capacity that they love themselves.”

To Rashid, this message is the basis of the entire event. The SAGE Project, held in Moulton Hall on Wednesday, honors female students at University who have overcome adversity to achieve their academic goals.

Jennie O’Connell, director of SRVSS, said that the project was inspired by the story of a domestic violence survivor she met in 2011. O’Connell was impressed by the woman’s strength, and realized there must have been more going through similar situations.

Statistically, O’Connell’s realization is probably correct. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, 15 percent of all violent crime is intimate partner violence, and women between 18 and 24 are most commonly abused by intimate partners.

Bisexual women are at an even greater risk, as 61 percent reported having experienced rape, physical violence or stalking by an intimate partner, according to the Human Rights Campaign, compared to 35 percent of straight women. The rates are also higher among women of color and transgender women.

The SAGE Project Honorees are nominated by faculty and staff and are invited to tell their stories to motivate other women. This year, 12 women from the main and regional campuses were awarded for their achievements.

Honoree Courtney James, a senior business management major at Kent Stark, said she felt good to be able to inspire people of all types

“Women, men… folks… It’s our opportunity as women to open doors for other people,” James said.

According to Cassie Pegg-Kirby, director of the Women’s Center, it was difficult to choose which women to honor out of the many nominations the project received.

“We wanted to find women who inspired and challenged us,” Pegg-Kirby said. She added that the project tries to select women who come from diverse backgrounds and have unique experiences, so that everyone hearing the stories will be able to resonate with at least one.

All 12 honorees stood to tell their stories and accept their awards, which included a small glass plaque and a $100 scholarship – something the recipients didn’t know until the end of the ceremony.

Jasmine Hye told the attendees about going through an abusive relationship in her teen years, coping with self-harm and depression, getting married and having children at a young age and dealing with her eldest son’s autism diagnosis. She said she enrolled at Kent State when she was 24 to pursue her dream of becoming a nurse.

Hye also urged women to accept and embrace their faults, calling them an important part of a person’s life.

“We are stronger, wiser and better women because of them,” she said.

Taiwanese graduate student Kai-Han Chang shared a story of being told by her grandfather she should not study science and engineering because of her gender. Chang, who studies liquid crystal physics, said Kent State was the only university that accepted her.

Despite this, Chang said she doesn’t think she has suffered, and instead views her obstacles as challenges to overcome.

“It’s just a part of problem-solving,” she said, eliciting a laugh from the crowd.

Emily St. Jean, a senior nursing student, told an emotional story about her younger brother, who was declared brain dead after being involved in a severe car accident. His organs, she said, saved the lives of six people.

St. Jean said the loss of her brother made her even more passionate about her career as a nurse and taught her and her family to “live ten seconds at a time” to enjoy the small things.

Other honorees included volleyball player Heather Younkin, senior conflict management major Robin Burkhardt, Georgian student Nina Zamtaradze, and Brittany Cromie, a young mother who overcame an opiate addiction.

From here, Pegg-Kirby said she plans to expand the program to the community to inspire more women who may be going through similar situations, although she said the center is still deciding how best to do so.

Nominations for The SAGE Project Class of 2019 are now open.

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