Since I was 10, I have loved playing tennis. I was hooked at my first lesson and had the opportunity to play competitively for both my highschool and college teams. I never questioned whether I could play sports at school or whether the women’s tennis team would be treated equally as the men’s tennis team. That’s because of a law passed 38 years ago.
Like many women of my generation that grew up playing sports we have Title IX to thank for the equality we have been able to enjoy on and off the sports field. Last week was the 38th anniversary of the passage of Title IX, which is the federal law prohibiting sex discrimination in all federally funded educational programs and activities. It has been credited for the dramatic increase in the participation of women and girls in athletics programs, and overall equity in educational programs as well.
Title IX was passed to ensure women and girls were not excluded from any educational program by banning sex discrimination. This landmark civil rights legislation has broken down gender barriers in education and athletics in monumental ways.
Before Title IX’s passage, fewer than 300,000 high school girls played competitive sports and now over 3 million do. I certainly took for granted that I was born after 1971 and never had to think twice about whether I could play tennis. Like many women, engaging in sports was a very positive experience for me as it helped me stay physically fit, taught me how to act under pressure and ways to build successful teams.
Women playing sports can be especially important during highschool. We know that high school girls who are involved in sports are less likely to experience an unintended pregnancy and are more likely to have a positive body image compared with girls who aren’t athletes. One study found that women who played sports growing up had a lower obesity rate even 20 to 25 years later in life.
Most people who know about Title IX think it applies only to sports, but athletics is only one of 10 key areas addressed by the law. These areas are: Access to Higher Education, Career Education, Education for Pregnant and Parenting Students, Employment, Learning Environment, Math and Science, Sexual Harassment, Standardized Testing and Technology.
An important impact of Title IX is the vital role it’s played in increasing gender equity in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education by improving the climate for women in those fields. Women continue to struggle with advancing in these fields because of a variety of environmental and societal barriers. I can’t imagine where women would be in STEM fields without Title IX.
There have been attempts to weaken Title IX, which have thankfully been rolled back. In April, the Department of Education issued new Title IX athletics guidance that rescinded the deeply flawed 2005 “Additional Clarification of Intercollegiate Athletics Policy: Three-Part Test – Part Three.” This allowed schools to be able to use non-responses to an e-mail survey to demonstrate a lack of interest in athletics and use that as basis to justify cuts to women’s programs.
Every school or school district that receives federal funding (which includes almost all colleges and universities, as well as public elementary, middle and secondary schools) is required to designate and adequately train at least one employee to coordinate the recipient’s Title IX responsibilities. However unfortunately thousands of schools across the country are still not in compliance with the law. For more information about Title IX regulations visit titleix.info.
While Title IX has made great strides for women and girls over the past four decades, there is still room for improvement. We must protect Title IX and ensure that future generations of women and girls can benefit from it like I did.