On the 46th Anniversary of Title IX, There's Still Work To Be Done
"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."
Title IX was enacted forty-six years ago to end discrimination against women and girls in federally funded educational institutions. The law itself makes no explicit mention of sports; however, high school and collegiate athletics soon became its legacy and its most recognizable impact.
Title IX has led to an exponential increase in women and girls' participation in sports, which in turn has afforded girls benefits that extend to nearly every area of their lives. According to the Women's Sports Foundation, girls who are high school athletes get better grades, are more likely to graduate, and are less likely to have unintended pregnancies than non-athletes. Girls and women who play sports have higher levels of confidence and psychological well-being, a more positive body image, and lower levels of depression than those who do not play sports.
Athletics and Academics
Despite its legacy as a law about athletics, the overarching aim of Title IX was to increase women and girls' access to education and all the opportunities that came along with it, including, but not limited to, sports. According to an Obama-era Department of Justice report, discrimination within educational institutions ran rampant before the law's passing, impacting female students and educators. Before Title IX, colleges set quotas for the admission of women or refused to even accept their applications. Women were excluded from "male" programs, and women faculty were more frequently denied tenure than men.
The American educational system has taken strides toward gender equality in education and the workforce. However, there's still work to be done.
Title IX has not been the magic equalizer that many Americans believe it to be. Women still have fewer athletic opportunities, enter STEM professions and degree programs at lower rates, and make less money than men. This year, Forbes' list of the 100 highest-paid athletes did not include a single woman (and Floyd Mayweather, who has a history of physically abusing women, took the top spot).
Recently, new interpretations of the law have taken away protections that once supported the safety and security of sexual assault survivors and transgender individuals in our educational system.
We're Not Done Yet: The Fight to Stop Sexual Violence on Campus
20% of women and 6% of men in college are the victims of attempted or actual sexual assault. In response to these shocking numbers, the Obama Administration worked to ensure the safety of survivors and victims, particularly those on college campuses, and make sure their experiences were taken seriously and investigated thoroughly.
As part of this effort, the Department of Education released a "Dear Colleague" letter, a type of document that has often been used to issue guidance related to Title IX. This letter, issued on April 4, 2011, included pointed directives for universities handling sexual harassment allegations without carrying the full weight of the law.
Through this letter, the Obama Administration demonstrated a commitment to ensuring that all educational institutions take sexual violence seriously in an effort to change the statistics – and the conversation – surrounding campus sexual assault. It asked schools to double down on their efforts to prevent sexual violence and make it clear to students that sexual assault is a serious and inexcusable crime.
President Barack Obama signs the Campus Sexual Assault Presidential Memorandum during a White House Council on Women and Girls meeting in the East Room of the White House, Jan. 22, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)
This guidance, as well as initiatives like Vice President Biden's "It's On Us," made an impact on student survivors. It gave victims reason to believe that their experiences would be treated with the gravity they deserved, and meant that schools had to take a more active role in changing campus climates to end the sexual violence epidemic. In a piece for the Washington Post, two survivors wrote of the Obama guidance: "It empowered campus sexual assault survivors like us to walk into meetings with school officials knowing that colleges couldn’t push us to withdraw from school until our perpetrators graduated."
But these regulations didn't last long – because they didn't carry the full weight of the law, they were quickly stripped away under a new administration. Under Betsy DeVos's leadership, the Education Department has rolled back its prior commitment to properly investigating all sexual assault cases, cutting systematic and thorough assessments of each complaint in order to get rid of the "backlog" of unresolved Title IX cases.
Relaxing investigative procedures is not the proper solution to this problem. Rather than ensuring all students' experiences receive appropriate attention, DeVos wants to sweep sexual assault claims under the rug, get them out of sight and out of mind, to the detriment of potentially hundreds of survivors who will not see their complaints properly processed.
U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos speaking at the 2018 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland. By Gage Skidmore
DeVos also recommended schools use a higher standard of evidence that makes it harder to prove the responsibility of the accused. In her statement, she referenced an inefficient system that deprives accused students of their right to due process. She did not refer to the fact that only between 2 and 10% of sexual assault allegations are false.
The Department of Education's statements not only reverse the direction of official Title IX guidance, they also represent a significant shift in the federal government's attitude toward sexual assault. In releasing new regulations, the Trump Administration is publicly demonstrating its lack of commitment to taking sexual violence seriously. It's also undermining the credibility of survivors, which can have a disproportionate impact on women of color and LGBTQ individuals, who are more likely to be sexually assaulted.
The Future of Title IX – Taking Action
As the national conversation surrounding gender discrimination changes, we must renew our approach to the fight against discrimination – we must widen our focus beyond what was considered in 1972 (namely, discrimination against white, cisgender women). Throughout its 46-year reign, Title IX has failed to benefit women and girls of color at the same rate as their white counterparts, both in athletics and in the classroom. And the Trump Administration, much like it did with the 2011 Dear Colleague letter, also withdrew a 2014 letter that protected the rights of transgender students.
Over the years, CWEALF has worked to ensure the fair and consistent application of Title IX to women and girls in Connecticut. CWEALF has provided Title IX training, issued reports on the status of Title IX in Connecticut, and submitted amicus curiae briefs in Title IX cases. They've organized conferences, workshops, and trainings centered around women in sports, equity in athletic programs, gender bias in the classroom, and sexual harassment and homophobia, among others. CWEALF's advocacy has led to legislative changes, too, including expanding hate crime laws to include gender identity and expression and mandating that emergency rooms offer emergency contraception to sexual assault victims. As the scope of Title IX has expanded, so has the scope of CWEALF, and the issues under the umbrella of Title IX that are currently in the spotlight are near and dear to CWEALF's mission. CWEALF values intersectionality, works for the rights and inclusion of all those in the LGBTQ+ community, and is committed to advocating for the rights of all women and marginalized communities in our state.
Our federal government might be moving backward, but the rest of us don't have to. We must hold our state governments, local schools, and universities accountable for treating all students with the respect and dignity they deserve.
Julia Hammond is CWEALF's Communications Intern and a rising junior at Fordham University.
By Julia Hammond, CWEALF Communications Intern at 22 Jun 2018, 11:36 AM
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