By Victoria Samuels, a Spring 2012 intern at The Leadership Conference Education Fund
This April will mark the 40th anniversary of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, the federal law prohibiting sex discrimination in federally funded education programs or activities. Forty years since the enactment of Title IX, major improvements have been made in certain fields such as athletics and sexual harassment awareness, while others are still in need of improvement such as the underrepresentation of women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields.
The increases in women’s participation in athletics since Title IX have been significant. The National Women’s Law Center reports that when Title IX was first enacted 1972, girls made up only 7.4 percent of all high school athletes; in the 2010/11 school year girls were 40 percent of all high school athletes. Similarly, in 1972, fewer than 32,000 women participated in intercollegiate athletics; today that number is 190,000.
Title IX has also increased awareness of sexual harassment and assault on college campuses and empowered the federal government to hold schools accountable. In April of 2011, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights issued a new guidance letter to schools and colleges to clarify Title IX requirements pertaining to sexual violence and harassment allegations. The letter outlines a three-step procedure that consists of distributing nondiscrimination notices to all students and employees on school campuses; establishing a Title IX coordinator to oversee all complaints and response procedures; and implementing effective grievance procedures. The letter also provides examples of steps that schools should take when handling a complaint and the appropriate standard of proof in the investigation of alleged assault.
While Title IX has made an impact on the lives of women, there is still more to be done. The Leadership Conference and the National Organization for Women (NOW) are particularly concerned about the serious gaps in girls’ participation in the STEM fields and athletics programs. Advocates of Title IX also point to the need to address sex segregation in technical, vocational, and career education programs in junior and community colleges, the issue of sex-based differentials in the SAT and other standardized tests, and the need for affordable and adequate child care to allow more low-income mothers to pursue higher education.
“Since Title IX, confidence of women has risen to the level of men, although they have not gotten to where they could or should be. Courses and careers have opened up to women and girls in ways they haven’t before,” said Dianne Piche, senior counsel on education policy at the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.