June 23, 2022
50 years of Title IX: A look at ‘a notable first step’ toward a more equitable playing field for women and girls
As the nation looks back, VCU experts talk about how it’s made a difference and the impact the civil rights law has had on the U.S.
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This week marks the 50th anniversary of Title IX’s passage in 1972. The federal civil rights law was a historic measure to prohibit sex-based discrimination in any educational entity that receives funding from the U.S. government. But the law’s impact has been felt in areas beyond education in the decades since.
VCU News spoke with four Virginia Commonwealth University experts about the impact Title IX has had on the American public.
Tomika Ferguson, Ph.D., School of Education
Ferguson, assistant dean for student affairs and inclusive excellence and an assistant professor in the Department of Educational Leadership, studies college athletics, holistic development of student-athletes and college experiences of women of color, with research centering on the intersection of race, gender, sport and educational equity. A former All-American student-athlete, she is the founder and lead facilitator of the Black Athlete Sister Circle at Division I institutions.
The purpose of Title IX was to create accountability, through restriction of federal funding, to prevent discrimination on the basis of sex. In education and sports, the promotion of sex equality has significantly increased participation opportunities for girls and women. This growth has not yet shifted public perceptions that the quality of girls’ and women’s athletic performance is equal to that of boys and men. This is one point of opportunity and frustration with Title IX legislation. Equality was once the goal, and now we need equity for increased change when we consider intersectional identities such as race, ethnicity, class and location.
Prevention of sex discrimination does not address experiences of racism that some Black girls and women face in sports, such as being called racist names on social media or limited coaching opportunities at all levels. Further, location and class have limited the number of available and affordable opportunities to compete in sports that girls in rural and low-income communities face. These limitations demonstrate the changes that are required for all girls and women, no matter where they are located or their background, to have increased and equitable opportunities to compete at all levels. These limitations can be achieved.
Sports policies that clearly demonstrate a commitment to, and action toward, racial equity and justice can positively influence the number of girls and women of color who participate in various sports, while also enhancing future college and coaching pipelines. Increased funding opportunities for communities and parents can increase access to costly sports, directly addressing the lack of racial diversity that many sports face. As we celebrate the many victories achieved over 50 years since Title IX, we must extend even more energy toward the work to enhance participation opportunities for all girls and women.
Ingram, an associate professor in the Department of Psychology and chair of the Department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies, has studied the impact of unsupportive social interactions (negative responses from others) to the lived experiences of girls and women, LGBTQIA+ individuals, people of color and individuals with disabilities.
Title IX has had a monumental impact on promoting gender equity in sports participation in the United States. The exponential increase in the number of girls and women who participate in sports in high school and college was unimaginable 50 years ago. Sport participation can be life changing for girls and women — offering opportunities to work as a member of a team, to take on leadership roles, to become more comfortable in their bodies and to pursue educational and career paths that might not have existed otherwise. The visibility of girls and women in sports also has helped us think more flexibly about gender roles and who should be allowed or encouraged to take on formal leadership roles in our society.
Although Title IX is a shining example of how a law can facilitate positive systemic change, all is not well. For example, Title IX has not had nearly as great of an impact in increasing sports participation among those who have been historically excluded in American society, particularly girls and women of color, LGBTQ folks and girls and women with disabilities. In addition, we have witnessed government officials working to dismantle Title IX and we have evidence of ongoing lack of compliance with Title IX at some educational institutions.
On this 50th anniversary of Title IX, we owe a huge debt of gratitude to all those who fought for the enactment of Title IX, those who have bravely stepped forward to demand compliance with Title IX, and those who are continuing to promote equity, inclusion and diversity in sports.
Carrie LeCrom, Ph.D., Center for Sport Leadership at the School of Business
LeCrom, executive director of the Center for Sport Leadership, has conducted research on the use of sports for social change and, as part of a Fulbright fellowship in 2019, launched an all-girl leadership and gender empowerment soccer program in the rural community of Jamestown, South Africa.
Sports is arguably the context in which Title IX has seen the greatest impact, or at least the most immediate impact after its passing in 1972. It would be easy to look at the numbers and see how much female participation in sports has grown over the past 50 years. It's over 1,000% — no exaggeration. In terms of resources, prior to Title IX, 1% of college athletics budgets went to women's sports. There are countless statistics that tell the story of Title IX's impact on women in sports. But statistics likely don't do justice to the cultural shift that resulted from Title IX, one that we are perhaps just acknowledging 50 years later.
Before the passing of Title IX, young girls may have enjoyed playing sports in their neighborhoods, but they certainly did not see sports as a path forward, neither as an elite athlete nor as a career trajectory. Title IX, almost immediately, created the ability — dare I say necessity — for amazing female leaders to emerge in a space they had not existed previously.
The women who pioneered careers in sports are starting to retire, and in their place are multiples of them — women who don't have to be the “first” or “only” any longer, thanks to their efforts. I’m sure I would not be in the role I’m in today had I not seen women like Pat Summitt, Billie Jean King and Judy Rose finding success as female leaders in sports. Yes, there are still barriers. Yes, sports can still be a proving ground for masculinity. And yes, the majority of general managers, athletics directors and coaches are still men. But Title IX mandated inclusivity, and the 50-year anniversary gives us a chance to celebrate the progress and forward momentum it created.
Mancini, an associate professor in the Department of Criminal Justice, has studied sexual crimes and related criminal justice policy, as well as the protections Title IX offers at the collegiate level and in K-12 schools.
Since its enactment in 1972, Title IX has created fairer and more equitable learning environments across a range of levels: K-12 and post-secondary institutions. The law prohibits gender-based discrimination in sports as well as in the classroom. Title IX also seeks to protect students from sexual harassment and abuse.
While we still have far to go to ensure equal educational playing fields for all students, the enactment of Title IX has been a notable first step toward advancing this important goal.
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