The Stateswoman Archive

From Pathbreakers to Partners:  Title IX at 30 Celebrates Success

by Courtney Reed Jenkins

“No persons in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any educational program or activity receiving federal assistance.”

Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 turns 30 in 2002. Title IX was the first comprehensive federal law to prohibit sex discrimination, including sexual harassment, against students and employees of federally-funded educational institutions (e.g., local school districts, colleges and universities, libraries, museums). The goal of Title IX is to eliminate the barriers and stereotypes that limit the opportunities and choices of both sexes in education and occupational training.

Although it is the application of Title IX to athletics that has gained the greatest public visibility, the law applies to all aspects of education: admissions and recruitment, comparable facilities, access to course offerings, access to schools of vocational education, counseling and counseling materials, financial assistance, student health and insurance benefits and/or services, housing, marital and parental status of students, education programs and activities, and employment.

Prior to 1972, we considered women and men in nontraditional roles as pathbreakers or pioneers. Since the passage of Title IX, we are beginning to see women and men as equal partners in work. For example, women earned less than 10% of legal professional degrees in 1970. In 1996, women received 44% of the legal degrees awarded. This parity is a long way from 100 years prior to Title IX, when Chief Justice Ryan wrote in a Wisconsin Supreme Court decision:

We cannot but think the common law wise in excluding women from the profession of law. The law of nature destines and qualifies the female sex for the bearing and nurture of the children of our race and for the custody of the homes of the world… and all life-long callings of women inconsistent with these sacred duties of their sex, as is the profession of law, are departures from the order of nature; and, when voluntary, treason against it…. *

Title IX benefits boys, girls, women, and men. It requires educational institutions that receive federal funding to maintain policies and programs that do not discriminate according to gender. Title IX has benefited all students by providing an environment where students can learn and achieve the highest standards. Research shows that gender-equitable education lifts barriers that limit opportunities and develops cooperative learning and communication skills. Equity is achieved when education is provided in a diverse, innovative way that will provide for a multitude of students. The American Association of University Women agreed in a statement reading, “Much of the research indicates that properties of a good education, not a sex-segregated environment, make the difference.”

Despite the research and decades of equity advocacy, the federal government has decided to support single-sex education. Congress’ education bill, approved last year and signed by President George W. Bush in January, clarified federal law on single-sex schooling and earmarked $3 million for single-sex programs if “comparable” coursework and facilities are available to both girls and boys. The May 15 Federal Register contains a notice outlining plans to amend the Title IX regulations to allow more freedom to establish single-sex classes and schools. (Public comment will be accepted until July 8, 2002.)

Another facet of discrimination is harassment, and Title IX regulations explicitly prohibit harassment. A number of recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions have clarified how the law should be applied in this area. In particular, the unanimous Franklin v. Gwinnett decision (1992) held that Title IX prohibits sexual harassment and allows victims to recover damages from institutions that violate the statute. Gebser v. Lago Vista (1997) limited the availability of money damages by requiring plaintiffs to prove “deliberate indifference” and prior knowledge by the school administration in cases where teachers or other educational staff sexually harassed students. In the most recent decision, Davis v. Monroe (1999), the Court held that schools may be liable for peer (student-to-student) sexual harassment.

Our lives - and the lives of our daughters and sons - are dramatically different and better as a result of Title IX. Title IX has made its way “into the culture of our schools and communities.” (Melissa Keyes, Introduction to 30th Anniversary of Title IX, NCSEE News Vol. 01-02 No. 3). “Remind yourselves of success when you see women’s history added to the curriculum, males enrolled in family and consumer science, or when you attend a women’s basketball game and see a sold-out house.” (Ibid.)

For more information on Title IX you can contact the WEEA Equity Resource Center (800/225-3088 or www.edc.org/WomensEquity) or go to the web site of the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) of the U.S. Department of Education, www.ed.gov/offices/OCR/ocregion.html.

In celebration of 30 years of Title IX, the Wisconsin K16 Gender Equity Coordinating Council is developing information and materials for statewide distribution. For more information, contact Louise Root-Robbins (UW-System) at 608-262-6831, Karen Showers (Wisconsin Technical College System Board) at 608-267-9458, or Courtney Reed Jenkins (DPI) at 608-267-2443.

Courtney Reed Jenkins is a consultant with the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction. This article first appeared in the Wisconsin Women’s Network’s newsletter, “The Stateswoman,” in June 2002.