Happy Birthday, Title IX!

June 23, 2011

Today, June 23, marks the 39th anniversary of the signing of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, the federal statute prohibiting sex discrimination in education programs and activities that receive federal financial assistance. This short provision, which is only one sentence long, has had a dramatic effect on all areas of education, opening many opportunities for women, and its birthday should be celebrated.

By Vikas Bhardwaj (Flickr: Happy Birthday!) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia CommonsIn 1971, the year before Title IX’s enactment, 8 percent of high school athletes were young women. But in the 2009–10 academic year, 41 percent of high school athletes — over 3 million students — were young women. In addition to athletics, Title IX made it possible for women to pursue careers as lawyers, doctors, mechanics, scientists, and professional athletes. Girls’ participation rates in science, technology, engineering, and math courses have unquestionably increased since the passage of Title IX. Before 1972, many of these opportunities were denied to women inside and outside of the classroom, including chances to participate in higher-level courses and math and science clubs. Since the enactment of Title IX, women’s participation in these fields has steadily increased.

Title IX also protects students from sexual harassment and bullying. Over the past year, the Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education, which enforces Title IX regulations, has sent two letters to federally funded schools and colleges detailing and clarifying these protections.

In the first letter, sent in October 2010, OCR told schools (elementary through university) that under current civil rights laws, schools are responsible for stopping, fixing, and preventing bullying. School bullying is an important issue — the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry reported that close to half of all children are bullied at some point while they are at primary or secondary school.

The second letter from OCR, sent in April 2011, clarified that sexual harassment of students, including acts of sexual violence, is prohibited under Title IX. As OCR explained, “the sexual harassment of students, including sexual violence, interferes with students’ right to receive an education free from discrimination and, in the case of sexual violence, is a crime.” AAUW was very pleased by both letters and by OCR’s focus on protecting students.

As we move toward Title IX’s 40th birthday next year, challenges remain. Women’s engagement in athletics and participation in science, technology, engineering, and math fields still lag behind men’s, and Title IX enforcement faces obstacles. But AAUW strongly supports Title IX and opposes any efforts that would weaken its effectiveness.

Beth Scott By:   |   June 23, 2011

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