Title IX turns 50: society has changed, but now it must go further | bu today

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Photos by Cydney Scott, Jackie Ricciardi, Andy Costello, and Dana J. Quigley. Images courtesy of Jeanne Friedman, Alena Paulus via Unsplash and BU Photo Services. Illustration by Dana Ferrante

Gender and Sports

In 1972 women made up 15 percent of all student athletes, now it is 44 percent, women are less than 10 percent of doctors and lawyers, today it is more than 50 percent.

Has any law had a broader impact on women and college campuses across the country than Title IX? It’s hard to imagine one, and as Title IX marks the 50th anniversary of its passage, it’s worth examining just how great its impact has been since it was signed into law on June 23, 1972.

In honor of 50 years of Title IX, bu today is celebrating its passage: we talked to women whose lives or careers were changed by the legislation and we’ve collected some fascinating facts and startling statistics about it. And in the end, we created a list that sums up the history of one of the most significant and important anti-discrimination laws in the books, while also showing how it must continue to evolve, especially as gender identity becomes a new frontier.

“Title IX is an access statute designed to remove barriers by providing equity and opportunity regardless of gender or sex,” says Jessica Nagle, BU’s Title IX coordinator. “Its purpose is to ensure that all people can access our living, learning and working environments free from discrimination or harassment. Our Sexual Misconduct Policy has a great influence on BU programs in the United States and around the world. Whether members of our community are studying or working at one of our Boston campuses or abroad, our Sexual Misconduct Policy affects them. Title IX obligations extend to BU’s educational programs and many areas of the University, including recruiting, admissions, advising, research laboratories, financial aid, athletics, and pay equity.”

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What exactly does Title IX say? “No person in the United States, on the basis of sex, shall be excluded from participation in, denied the benefits of, or discriminated against under any educational program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.” Simply put, it prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex.

Black and white photo of Jennifer Lanctot O'Neill (Questrom '91), BU's first three-time female All-American, running with a relay.  She wears a white tank top and shorts and has the number 907. The people behind her can be seen cheering on others in the run.

“It has opened up opportunities that I didn’t have when I was looking for colleges.”

—Jennifer Lanctot O’Neill (Questrom ’91), BU’s first three-time female All-American, in a 2000 article on how Title IX boosted women’s track and field programs across the country.

Photo by BU Photo Services

Title IX applies to schools, educational agencies (both local and state), and other institutions that receive federal financial assistance from the Department of Education. That includes 17,600 local school districts, more than 5,000 colleges and universities, charter schools, for-profit schools, libraries, and museums. All of them are subject to Title IX regulations.

Most people associate Title IX with the ways it opened the doors for girls and women to participate in college athletics on an equal footing with men. The reality is that Title IX was created to address the discrimination women faced in graduate schools and law schools. It was only when athletic administrators and trainers sought exemption from Title IX that Congress made it clear that the law applied to athletics as well.

Photo of Naomi Mann, a white woman with short blonde hair posing with her arms crossed against a white background.  She smiles and wears a short-sleeved light pink top.

“Before Title IX, women could be excluded from the courses. Discriminated against and without the same opportunities. This drew a line in the sand and said that you cannot discriminate based on gender. Women should have access to the same education and school services as men.

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The most easily visible effect of Title IX was around sports, because sports are easier to quantify and measure. Title IX introduced the availability of sports for a generation of women and those who identify as women.

It is now clear if you are being sexually harassed it is a form of sexual discrimination, especially when you look at the number of people who have been sexually assaulted in school settings. Those attacks have huge ramifications for those students to continue their education, and you realize how important it is to get it right. Title IX is that vehicle to protect that equal access to education.

Federal civil rights statutes include discrimination based on gender. Now, that’s one of the looming questions. Where will Title IX go?

Naomi Mann, clinical associate professor at the School of Law, executive director of the Civil Litigation and Justice Program, and former civil rights attorney for the Department of Education during the Obama presidency. In August, Mann will begin working as special counsel to the US Department of Health and Human Services, Office for Civil Rights to finalize the new Title IX regulations..

Photo courtesy of BU Law School

Thanks to Title IX, more women are attending college and earning degrees than ever before. In 1972, when it was signed into law, women earned 7 percent of all law degrees and 9 percent of all medical degrees. Today, women earn nearly half of all medical degrees and more than half of all law degrees.

“BU is diverse and vibrant because of our community members,” says Nagle. “Title IX works to protect people with identities that are not always visible, such as members of our trans, pregnant, parenting, and LGBTQ+ community. As our community evolves, we evaluate how individual needs change. We want everyone to not only have access to our community, but also be set up for success.”

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In 1972, fewer than 30,000 women played varsity sports, barely 15 percent of all student athletes. This day? Women make up 44 percent of all NCAA student athletes.

Until 1974, BU female athletes were not considered part of the athletic department; they were financed through Physical Education, Recreation and Dance.

At BU, scholarships for female athletes began to be offered in 1975 after John Silber, then BU president, established an advisory committee.

Film photo of Jeanne Friedman (Sargent '75), a member of the BU women's rowing team in its final year as a club sport before becoming a varsity team.  She is pictured in a teal hat and white tank top rowing a single boat on a river wearing little white caps.

“Some of us come from a very athletic background. I competed in five sports. I was used to having sports in my life, and I come to BU and there’s nothing but intramural sports for women. I played volleyball, but not as a college sport. People wanted to embrace their power and energy and that was one way to do it…

Because of Title IX, the biggest schools needed a group of women to balance out their biggest teams, and who did they find on campus? They found these clubs that had 50 or 70 women rowing as a club sport and turned them into varsity sports. It helped women’s rowing and therefore helped my career. I became a head coach for a program and got a teaching position. Title IX opened the doors not only for college, but also for high school programs. There are now tons of youth rowing programs, all a direct result of Title IX.

There is a special beauty in the need to fight. We raise money. We had a Rowathon. It was a very close battle to get what we needed, and that made us owners, and I hope the current team feels the need to own it. And I think they do.”

—Jeanne Friedman (Sargent ’75), member of the BU women’s rowing team in its final year as a club sport before converting to a varsity team and later women’s rowing. head coach at Mount Holyoke College for 22 years.

Photo courtesy of Friedman

Women’s rowing teams in the Boston area were among the first to form in the United States, and in 1974 a group of women at BU was instrumental in lobbying the University to change its program from a rowing sport. club to a formal BU intercollegiate team, a move that impacted not only them, but all of BU athletics. this documentary video tells his story.

In the case of the US Supreme Court. Bostock v. Clayton County, the justices, in a 2020 ruling indirectly related to Title IX that surprised many, said that gender discrimination includes discrimination based not only on sexual orientation, but also on gender identity. “An employer who fires someone simply for being gay or transgender is in defiance of the law,” Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote for the majority in the 6-3 ruling.

Bowers portrait on a white background  She is a white woman with blonde hair tied back.  She is wearing small hoop earrings and a black blazer and is smiling.

“Passage of Title IX provided unprecedented access to educational opportunities and related experiences, such as intercollegiate athletics, for women. It opened the doors not only for those women who participated in sports during college, but also for women who saw coaching as a career and people like me and others within the Boston University athletic department who used their experience as a student -athlete to foster a career in athletics administration.”

—Kristie M. Bowers, BU senior associate director of athletics.

Photo courtesy of BU Athletics

In 2021, two BU School of Law students, Kelsey Scarlett (LAW’21) and Lexi Weyrick (LAW’21), pursued Title IX reform by focusing on the importance of intersectionality. They presented their findings in a Title IX symposium and spoke on a panel on litigation responses to administrative actions under former President Trump. His research focused on reimagining Title IX to focus on the needs of survivors and address intersectional identities. “The current system ignores the reality that discrimination, particularly through sexual misconduct, is based on more than one identity at a time,” Scarlett and Weyrick wrote.

The BU School of Law will host an online symposium on Friday, September 23 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Title IX. bu today will post details about the symposium when they become available.

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