A Piece of My Mind: After 35 years, Title IX still making waves

I had scattered some literature about the goals of our women’s group around our meeting table. The youngest and newest member of the group picked up a card and read it aloud: “We love Title IX – Fair play on and off the court.”

She looked at me in surprise. “Are we still talking about that? Look at the coverage the women’s basketball and volleyball teams get at Stanford. Isn’t the Title IX thing a battle that has been won?”

Sorry, my friend. While Title IX became public law in 1972, and despite the increased news coverage of college women’s sports, the battle for implementation is still going on.

Title IX is a very short statute: “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.”

This one sentence covers a lot more than participation in athletics. The statute as implemented includes college recruitment; admissions and housing; opportunities for pregnant, parenting and/or married students; science, technology, engineering and math education; financial assistance; and many other areas of educational opportunity.

When U.S. Sen. Birch Bayh introduced the amendment to the Higher Education Act of 1965 that would become Title IX, he said, “While the impact of this amendment would be far-reaching, it is not a panacea. It is, however, an important first step in the effort to provide for the women of America something that is rightfully theirs – an equal chance to attend the schools of their choice, to develop the skills they want and to apply those skills with the knowledge that they will have a fair chance to secure the jobs of their choice with equal pay for equal work.”

But after 35 years, we still see inequities:

• STEM: Women and girls are still under-represented in science, technology, engineering and math classes at all levels.

• Athletics: Despite talk of a “boys crisis,” which postulates that funding for women’s sports has come at the expense of men’s opportunities, in fact women’s teams receive only 36 percent of athletic operating dollars.

• Higher education: Pregnant and parenting students are often steered toward separate and less rigorous schools.

According to a 2011 letter issued by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, “The sexual harassment of students, including sexual violence, interferes with students’ right to receive an education free from discrimination and, in the case of sexual violence, is a crime.” This extension of the act to include sexual harassment as a form of discrimination has had headline-making repercussions.

The Women’s Marches, the Me Too movement and, locally, the ballot measure attempting to recall Judge Aaron Persky because of his perceived lenient sentencing of rapists can all be said to have their origins in the unfulfilled promises of Title IX.

No, we’re not done with Title IX. The battles have shifted ground, and may be fought under different banners, but we are still fighting.

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