Happy Birthday Title IX!June 23, 2009
Today marks the 37th anniversary of the passage of Title IX, the federal legislation that prevents all federally funded schools from discriminating based on sex in education and school activities. While those who worked so hard to pass the legislation nearly 40 years ago may have been focusing on scholarships and science classes for girls, the provision is now best known for its strides in closing the gender gap in secondary and collegiate athletics. The National Women’s Law Center reports that in 1972, fewer than 32,000 women participated in intercollegiate athletics and received only 2 percent of school athletic budgets. In 2002, 30 years later, we received 42 percent of the opportunities and 32 percent of the recruitment funds. Huge advances have been made, but the long road ahead still remains.
AAUW held a briefing at the Capitol last Tuesday for the High School Sports Information Collection Act, a piece of legislation that would require school administrators to make public their statistics on race and sex stratification in athletics programs. Attending the briefing were former Sen. Birch Bayh (D-IN), who introduced and successfully passed the legislation in the 1970s, and Dominique Dawes, three-time Olympic medalist in gymnastics. I was lucky enough to be able to attend the briefing, and, while I went in knowing that the policy nerd inside of me would love the chance to snap a photo with the legendary Birch Bayh, I never expected to be so giddy to meet Dominique. As I stood in a long line of young female interns all waiting for the chance to shake hands with the young woman we’d been watching on TV since elementary school, the 10-year-old soccer player and Mia Hamm fanatic reemerged from within me, and I realized how lucky I’d been to have the support of my parents and schools in my dedicated but short-lived efforts to be the youngest player on the U.S. women’s national team.
I started playing soccer at the ripe old age of 5 when “rad” was the word de jour. I played midfield for the Radical Raspberries. I stuck with the sport through middle school, and, while my dreams of athletic stardom were quick to dissolve when other passions arose in high school, I’ll never forget the leadership experience and work ethic I gained over the years on the soccer field. Girls who play sports in middle and high school have lower dropout rates, avoid pregnancy, stay away from drugs, and get better grades. They also tend to avoid childhood obesity, unlike one in three of their peers. Learning the discipline and dedication associated with competition and team play is an invaluable opportunity that wouldn’t have been available to me without Title IX.
But I was one of the lucky ones. Girls in urban areas are significantly less likely to have athletic facilities and opportunities that match up to their male counterparts. Even in the suburbs, parents have to file a request under the Freedom of Information Act (a process that can take up to two years) just to take a look at the data that shows whether their daughters are being treated the same as their sons. I wouldn’t want to be the person to get stuck between a school administrator and an outraged father that just found out that while the boys down the street play in a brand new stadium, his daughters are stuck on a lowly old practice field.
So bake a cake, light some candles, and write your senators and representative and let them know that their co-sponsorship of the High School Athletics Accountability Act would be Title IX’s absolute favorite birthday present.