The 50th Anniversary of Title IX: A Celebration and a Critique

Dylan Anderman, Sports Editor

2022 marked the 50th anniversary of Title IX, the groundbreaking law that protects against sex-based discrimination and sexual harassment within educational settings. Since 1972, Title IX has charted a path toward gender parity and equality of opportunity for young women and girls in education, sports, and academia.

Despite its tremendous impact, there is still much to be done. Women continue to face barriers in accessing equal opportunities, while sexual harassment and assault remain pervasive issues on college campuses. As we celebrate the progress that Title IX has brought, we must also extend our efforts to address the ongoing challenges that remain.

What is Title IX?

Title IX prohibits sex-based discrimination in any school or any other educational program that receives funding from the federal government. The law is intended to foster a safe environment for women in admissions, athletics, employment, and more. On a macro level, Title IX exists to curb sexual harassment and sex-based discrimination and ensure equal access to education.

Who do we thank for this? Women. Through decades of hard work and advocacy, the first women to help this law pass included: Dr. Bernice Sandler, Rep. Edith Green, Rep. Patsy Mink, and Sen. Birch Bayh.

The following three prongs of Title IX keep compliance in each institution:

Athletic programs: Schools must provide equal opportunities for male and female students to participate in sports, as well as equal treatment and benefits for both genders in terms of coaching, equipment, facilities, and publicity.

Sexual harassment and assault: Schools must have policies and procedures in place to prevent and respond to sexual harassment and assault, and they must investigate any reports of such incidents promptly and impartially.

Other areas of education: Title IX also applies to other areas of education, such as admissions, financial assistance, and academic programs. Schools must ensure that they do not discriminate on the basis of sex in any of these areas and that they provide equal opportunities and treatment for all students.

What is Title IX’s impact on women’s sports?

As a federally funded department, once Title IX was in place, athletics departments received much-needed support, changing the course of women’s sports. Before the law was enacted, female sports were highly neglected; around 30,000 women played college sports, whereas now in 2022, there are about 230,000 collegiate female athletes.

Each year the participation and viewership of women’s sports continue to increase exponentially. The growth hasn’t just affected young women in education, but the professional field as well.

This year, the women’s college basketball championship accumulated 9.9 million viewers, making it the most-watched women’s basketball game in history. This game had higher viewership than the Emmys, the Golden Globes, all NFL Thursday Night Football games, and NBA games.

Here at California State University, East Bay, we see a similar rise. In 2021 alone, the Women’s Soccer team won the CCAA championship. Following that the Women’s Basketball team reached the “sweet sixteen” in the NCAA tournament, while also winning the CCAA. The year concluded with the success of several female athletes, especially among the Women’s Swim team and Women’s Water Polo, which finished second in the WWPA championships.

How has the law prevented sexual harassment and assault?

Title IX became a powerful tool for students and administrators to fight against sexual violence. The Women’s Rights Project and the Students Active for Ending Rape, help hold schools accountable for sexual violence.

They have gone to court with students and won against several universities including Arizona State University, University of Colorado, Barnstable School Committee, and more. The Women’s Rights Project has been able to use these cases as examples while continuing to advocate for protection against sexual violence.

Title IX has required that schools have grievance procedures in place for students to have an opportunity to speak out against personal instances of sex-based discrimination and/or sexual harassment. Before the law, many students feared the idea of turning to the justice system. With Title IX, the unaddressed violence from the justice system can, by law, have a criminal trial brought against the defendant by the state, not the victim. This can help the survivor feel more comfortable and gain much-needed support from the school itself so that they can continue to pursue their education.

How has the law impacted education?

The most overlooked part of Title IX is the impact it has on education. Title IX allows women to have equal access to admission into a university/school, receive financial help, and participate in academic programs. Before the law, women were not guaranteed as much equity.

Before Title IX, the percentage of female medical graduates and law graduates was at a mere 9% total. Now, in both fields, it has risen to nearly 50%, a drastic increase.

What still needs to be done?

The most disheartening aspect of Title IX: the continuing problem of sexual violence. While enrolled in school, 26% of women are or will become victims of sexual violence, and only 1 in 5 survivors received assistance from a victim services agency. Regarding higher education, other studies suggest that at least two-thirds of women experience sexual harassment in college.

In 2020, the Department of Education changed what it means to be a “victim of sexual harassment and violence,” and it has created a tougher process for individuals to come forward about their attacks. The law needs to be revised to help protect the young women affected in schools and universities. Sexual violence needs to become a more urgent matter. While it is difficult to stop one’s intentions, it is not difficult to punish and create easier ways to allow victims to report and find the justice they deserve.

We also still see achievement and opportunity gaps. Studies continue to suggest that college-level women are less likely to pursue specific fields due to discrimination. One field, in particular, includes STEM: science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. As a male-dominated industry with a high percentage of female layoffs, STEM is an example of a field in which women are underrepresented and oppressed while men find high success.

Title IX has made tremendous progress for women over the past 50 years, however, there is plenty to be done.

The beginning stages of Title IX were important and while they helped us take a step in the right direction, the law can sometimes be neglected and some schools and universities have not always complied. There are a number of schools that continue to claim they don’t have the time or money to accommodate female athletes, but that cannot be an excuse anymore.

Celebrate Title IX

Although these problems still exist, there is plenty to celebrate considering the progress we have seen. Today, women have a louder voice and a stronger presence.

Celebrating Title IX can help shed light on the necessary change still needed, making the topic of gender equality and sexual harassment become a more prominent issue.

Discrimination should not be tolerated. We all walk the journey of life and the paths we each aspire to take should be welcomed, regardless of gender.