University Park

Peggy Lorah, assistant vice president in Student Affairs, set to retire

Peggy Lorah, second from right, with the staff from the Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity during the construction of the new office space in the HUB-Robeson Center.  Credit: Penn StateCreative Commons

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - As 2020 comes to a close, so will the impactful career of a long-time advocate for Penn State students. Peggy Lorah, assistant vice president for diversity and inclusion in Student Affairs, is set to retire at the end of December.

"Peggy Lorah has been the nearly perfect blend of heart and mind in a student affairs professional,” said Damon Sims, vice president of Student Affairs. “She has never forgotten the core reason for the work we do at Penn State -- to support, encourage, and even nurture our students -- and she has done her work always with equal measures of intelligence, insight, and love. I have known no better person in my professional life, and though she will be missed, Peggy's impact will be sustained by all of us who have learned so much from her example."

In her most recent role, Lorah provided leadership support to advocacy and equity units including the Gender Equity Center, Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity, Paul Robeson Cultural Center, Center for Spiritual and Ethical Development, Adult Learner Programs and Services, and Collegiate Recovery Community.

“I have been doing lots of looking back on a career and I’m very excited to see what comes after my retirement,” said Lorah. “Maybe that’s what I’m most proud of, that I get to be connected with people who are doing excellent work and I know that there’s a whole next level of work that gets to be done. I’m honored to be part of the foundation of that happening. That’s one of the things that I’ve noticed about Penn State and the time I’ve been here, that there have always been people who are willing to struggle with important issues to really make a difference in the lives of students and in the lives of faculty and staff.

“I am just blessed by getting to work with wonderful students and wonderful colleagues and I could not be more grateful about that.”

Lorah joined the University in 1999 as part of the Center for Women Students, now the Gender Equity Center, where she served as assistant director and then director before moving into her assistant vice president role in 2017. During her time at Penn State, Lorah also taught numerous courses, serving as an affiliate assistant professor of higher education, counselor education and women’s studies.

Through advocacy, teaching, support for equity, inclusion and diversity, and counseling, Lorah has had a wide-ranging impact on many throughout her 20-plus years at the University. Audra Hixson, director of the Gender Equity Center, has worked closely with Lorah since 2003. Hixson said some of Lorah’s strongest qualities are her trustworthiness and her ability to make individuals feel comfortable talking with her.

Between individual sessions, programming and teaching, Hixson estimates Lorah has impacted hundreds upon thousands of people.

“It grows exponentially in that way,” said Hixson. “She has definitely saved lives in terms of people in crisis. I think that’s critical work that she’s done. Then, through a broader impact, really raising awareness of issues among students and faculty and staff and being willing to have difficult conversations that informed their decision making or informed University policy and procedures. It’s really a wide spectrum of impact that she’s had.”

Brian Patchoski, director of the Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity, can speak first-hand to that impact. Patchcoski has known Lorah since his time as a graduate student at the University in 2007, taking classes and independent studies with Lorah.

For him, Lorah was not just a teacher but also became a mentor. Patchcoski formerly served as assistant director of the LGBTA Student Resource Center, which later became the Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity. Even after leaving the University for another role, Patchcoski said Lorah served as a person he could call for advice. He later returned to Penn State, with one of the main reasons being the opportunity to work with Lorah.

“I think Peggy has constantly been a reminder of humanness, of human work, and how critical that work is amongst everything else we do,” said Patchcoski. “Her embodiment of helping skills and her living of her counseling experience is truly what makes Peggy amazing.

“She is that natural counselor and clinician. Teaching and guiding us all to trust the process, while providing a bridge of connection and hope not only for our student communities, but also colleagues, in some of the hardest moments of their lives. That takes a skill that I don’t think is taught, I think it’s just innate. It’s one that has served her very well and it has served us as Penn State very well.”

Lorah, a native of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, said she has been connected to issues of social justice and equity from an early age. She attended Elizabethtown College and received her bachelor’s degree in religion and philosophy because for Lorah, her commitment to equity and social justice is a spiritual and philosophical commitment, as well as intellectual one. She later received her master’s in community counseling from Shippensburg University before earning her doctorate in counselor education from Penn State.

While she didn’t always know what she would do for a career, it was important to her that she be an advocate for those who are invisible and need support, so she got her start in counseling. Prior to her time with the University, Lorah held multiple counseling and community support roles with the goal of helping others. During her time at Penn State, while every day was different, advocacy has always been at the core of her work.

And, while retirement is on the horizon and Lorah will take to some of her hobbies such as reading, being outdoors and artwork, the things she cares about, such as supporting others, aren’t going to change.

“I think it is just so important for all of us as we’re able, and we’re often able to do this very differently than we believe we’re able, to make a difference in the world,” said Lorah. “That world is in our families, it’s in our communities, it’s in our campuses, it’s in our country and it’s in the world. For me, I can’t imagine a career or a lifetime that doesn’t involve doing whatever is possible to do. One of the things I know from my own lived experience is that what’s possible to do is way more than what I ever imagined is possible to do.

“I would always want to be doing this work but there’s an element that says I don’t have a choice because it’s the right thing to be doing and I get to do what feels like the right thing to be doing.”

Last Updated December 17, 2020