What’s Going on with Title IX? Better or Worse for Women in Education?

by ZontaDoris

Betsy DeVos

Title IX of the Education Amendments Act has come up for intense scrutiny this year with the change in presidential administration and appointment of Secretary Betsy DeVos to lead the U.S. Department of Education. DeVos, pictured at right in her official photo, has proceeded quickly to re-craft the policies and protocols for dealing with incidents of sexual harassment and sexual violence on college campuses.

DeVos explained her intent in this Washington Post article by Susan Svrluga and Nick Anderson published in September:

…she vowed Thursday to replace what she branded the “failed system” of campus sexual assault enforcement, to ensure fairness for victims and the accused.

“Instead of working with schools … ,” DeVos said, “the prior administration weaponized the Office for Civil Rights.”

“We must do better because the current approach isn’t working,” she said.

In the same article, victim rights advocates reacted to Devos’ proposing a turnabout from the 45-year history of Title IX and recent Obama administration’s expansions of protection in this way:

Fatima Goss Graves, president and CEO of the National Women’s Law Center  called the speech “a blunt attack on survivors of sexual assault. . . .  It sends a frightening message to all students: your government does not have your back if your rights are violated.”

Catherine Lhamon, who headed Education’s civil rights office under Obama, said, “The speech pretty clearly sent a message that sexual assault will not be taken seriously by this administration. That could not be more damaging.”

This controversy made me realize how little I really know about the 45-year history of Title IX and how we became ensnared in the current ditch it/keep it polemics.

I began researching Title IX. One thing I learned is that athletics did not start out as its primary focus. Nor was it sold on the basis of stopping sexual violence against women per se.

Rep. Edith Green, and later Congresswoman Patsy Mink and Sen. Birch Bayh offered the legislation to extend the reach of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to encourage gender equity in educational programs receiving federal financial assistance. I recommend this article by Steve Wulf writing for ESPN detailing the history of Title IX. It started with a part-time lecturer who wished to enter the tenured faculty track at the University of Maryland. The history shows how single-minded individuals can launch enormous waves of social and legal change.

When Congress approved Title IX of the Education Amendments, and President Nixon signed it into law in 1972, it did not mention athletics. The Office of Civil Rights (OCR) in the U.S. Department of Education offers this excerpt from the new law:

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 Title IX website explains that Title IX protections apply to ten different areas in education to ensure educational equity in men and women’s access to 1) Higher education 2) Athletics under Title IX 3) Career education 4) Education for pregnant and parenting students 5) Employment 6) Learning environment 7) Math and science 8) sexual harassment 9) Standardized testing and 10) Technology. 

Clearly, without Title IX, our educational settings would be very different and less supportive of women’s safety, growth, and opportunities.

For instance, not nearly as many women would have been able to become professional athletes, enroll in engineering and medical programs, or even been able to complete high school. Why? Because women’s sports opportunities in K-16 education prior to Title IX were limited. There was no on-ramp to college or professional sports for women. Biased standardized tests that women did not perform as well on as men kept them out of certain graduate programs. Low expectations for women to do well in fields dominated by men also foreclosed women’s entry into these professions. Women are nurses, men are doctors stereotypes flourished. And  because they were already parents or about to give birth while in high school, many girls had to drop out because the schools did not want them to continue or because there were no programs to support young parents with academic ambitions.

Because Title IX protections were and are critical to millions of girls and women, this is the first of three blog posts on the topic. This post speaks to the history of Title IX as captured in the narrative above and timeline below. The next blog post will discuss the impact of Title IX, especially as it relates to athletics, the best documented area of change. The third blog post will delve into the arguments offered by DeVos and others who wish to “reform” Title IX to make it work more fairly for victims and the accused.

In this way, I hope we Zontians, and our friends reading this blog, will be able to speak from a deeper  perspective as challenges to Title IX pop up in Washington, DC and elsewhere. I finished growing up as Title IX came to be. The next generation of women did benefit and I intend to help the best parts of Title IX survive to enable subsequent generations of girls and women realize their dreams, too.  

The timeline details the biggest threats and opportunities to Title IX over its  45-years of existence. Sources that I relied on are listed below.

Resources used for this blog:

ESPN, “Title IX: Thirty Words that Changed Everything, Steve Wulf, April 2012.

Office of Civil Rights, U.S. Department of Education, Policy Guidance, Dear Colleague Letters and history of Title IX

Titleix.info website, History of Title IX

Washington Post, “DeVos decries ‘failed system’ on campus sexual assault, vows to replace it,” Susan Svrluga and Nick Anderson, September 2017.

Wikipedia, history of Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Title IX

Pictures of Yes/No signs and pregnant woman from Pixabay

* * * * *

Views expressed in this blog post are mine and may not reflect the stance of the Zonta Club of Pinellas County or Zonta International. — Doris Reeves-Lipscomb