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Half a century after it was enacted, Title IX, the federal law that prohibits discrimination against women in education, has forced a leveling of the playing field on campus, though advocates say their job is not done yet. In recent years, the law has forced a reckoning over campus sexual harassment and assault, and its protections have been expanded to cover bias based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Those impacts follow others, particularly in women’s sports, where the changes it forced have been described as “transformational.” The Gazette asked Jeannie Suk Gersen, John H. Watson Jr. Professor of Law and an expert on gender and law, and Susan Ware, AM ’73, Ph.D. ’78, historian and author of “Title IX: A Brief History with Documents” (2014) to discuss the legacy of the law. The two were interviewed separately for this article, and both interviews have been edited for clarity and length.
Gazette: Why was Title IX needed when it was passed in 1972? Didn’t the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibit discrimination in various areas based on sex?
Gersen: Women faced glaring educational inequality, such as exclusion from certain colleges and universities or from certain programs and spaces within those schools, higher admissions standards than men, more frequent tenure denials than men, and a myriad of other disadvantages. imposed in relation to men. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibited sex discrimination in employment but did not cover education, and Title IV prohibited discrimination in federally funded entities but did not cover sex discrimination. So Title IX followed in 1972 to fill the gap and directly address sex discrimination in education.
Gazette: Were there fierce partisan battles over the passage of Title IX?
Gersen: Title IX passed with bipartisan support and was signed into law by President Richard Nixon. But it was embroiled in controversy as part of the larger controversial debate of the time about what equality would mean for women’s traditional roles in the home and in society, exemplified by the fight over the Equal Rights Amendment, which ultimately It was not ratified and did not become a constitutional reform.
Gazette: After 50 years, is it still controversial?
Gersen: Title IX remains controversial because although the ideal of equal opportunity and the prohibition of sex discrimination are widely accepted as a general issue, what constitutes discrimination on the basis of sex has been the subject of intense debate. The meaning of “discrimination” and the meaning of “sex” have also become less established over the decades, particularly as the youth on campus of each generation question the meaning of these concepts and give it new meaning. and urgent to the promise of Title IX. These debates keep interpretations of Title IX contentious, even among people who have no problem accepting that sex discrimination in education is prohibited and unacceptable.
For decades, the general public associated Title IX with equal opportunity for female students in sports because athletic excellence had traditionally been associated with men, and girls’ and women’s sports were often neglected in terms of funding and support for.