4 Ways Young Women Can Take Action on Education Equity

June 25, 2015

Sarah Stitzlein with her preschool age son sitting on her lap

Sarah Stitzlein with her son

It is a well-known fact that sex discrimination in education still exists. And, unfortunately, so many of us have experienced this form of discrimination firsthand. But why is this inequity so persistent, and what can we do about it? Since the anniversary of Title IX, the law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any federally funded education program, was on June 23, I wanted to dig deeper into these issues — specifically for women whose quality of life has been further affected by poverty or belonging to a minority group.

To learn more, I contacted Sarah Stitzlein, an associate professor of educational curriculum theory at the University of Cincinnati and a 2011–12 AAUW American Fellow whose research focuses on inequity in the education system and finding ways to overcome “persistent hierarchies of race and gender.”

For Stitzlein, “the evidence about the experiences of poor, black and Latino, urban youth in some schools is quite strong. Many have subpar facilities, high teacher turnover rates, lack of advanced courses, low expectations, et cetera.” It is easy to see how being a girl in one of these schools would make overcoming such hurdles even more challenging. In addition, Stitzlein’s research suggests that sexism in school harms “girls in both the immediate moment and their potential for the future.”

Drawing from her own experience, as well as her postdoctoral research, Stitzlein recommends four ways young women can proactively identify and address instances of educational inequity.

    1. Know how to wield your power.

    It is important that young women be able to identify and label instances of education inequity, frame it as an injustice, demand change be made regarding it, and put forward better alternatives. Stitzlein continues, “If girls want to become stronger advocates, they can focus on each of those elements to help develop their voice and impact.”

    2. Speak up — and help the girls in your life do the same!

    It is important that girls learn the importance of speaking up. Too often individual girls feel insignificant and do not believe their opinion can make a difference. It can be as simple as “letting others know that an unjust or inequitable behavior is not acceptable.” But who can help?

    3. Know that Title IX coordinators are there to help.

    If you are at an educational institution, Title IX coordinators are there to protect students and employees from discrimination based on sex. (If your school does not have a Title IX coordinator or if the designated person is unable to help, remember that the Office for Civil Rights is an available resource.)

    In Stitzlein’s experience, going to a Title IX coordinator works! “We recently hired a new Title IX coordinator who is appearing all around campus, helping faculty, staff, and students better understand the parameters of Title IX. … I think this is helping to make a better informed campus,” she said. “I also appreciate that she is talking to faculty and staff, so that we recognize that this is not [only] a student issue but rather a community one.”

    If your school’s Title IX coordinator needs guidance about what the job entails, you can also share the recently released resources from the Department of Education.

    4. Think critically.

    For Stitzlein, skills of language, such as detecting faulty rhetoric, are very important for young women to learn. Stitzlein notes, “students too often strive to get the ‘correct’ answer, rather than working toward a deeper understanding, developing their own views and perspectives.” When students are able to think critically enough to see outside the box, they will be less likely to accept harmful or gender-based norms that do not work in their favor.

So, whether you are teaching a young girl the importance of speaking up or reaching out to Title IX coordinators on your campus, know that there are ways that we can work together to overcome sexual discrimination for all women in schools.

This post was written by AAUW Fellowships and Grants Program Associate Theon Gruber-Ford.


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