In 1972, I was 15 years old and a sophomore in high school when Title IX was written into law guaranteeing that “no person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.” If I hadn’t been playing high school varsity sports at the time, I don’t think I would have been aware of this landmark legislation.
Once I understood the meaning of Title IX for girls and women, I distinctly remember marching into the principal’s office with two teammates. We demanded the right to practice basketball in the high school gym and use the weight room that was off limits because it was in the boys’ locker room. Soon thereafter—and I’m sure with the leadership and insistence of our women coaches—we were allowed equal practice time in the gym. Though we never officially gained access to the weight room, my teammates and I no longer had to take a bus after school to a local elementary school, where we had to push back the cafeteria tables and sweep the floor in order to practice basketball in a small multipurpose room.
Several years later, I benefitted again from Title IX when upon graduating from high school I earned one of the first women’s athletic scholarships for field hockey. As a first-generation college student who needed to work a lot to save money for college, a four-year athletic scholarship enabled me to study, play sports, work only in the summers, and earn my bachelor’s degree in four years. Ultimately, I credit Title IX with giving me sports and educational opportunities that helped me pave the career path to where I am today.
My story is not unique. Title IX has presented opportunities for hundreds of thousands of girls and women like me over the past five decades. Participation in sports teaches goal setting, organization, teamwork, how to rise from failure, and leadership. It’s not surprising that, according to research conducted by Ernst & Young, 94 percent of women who hold C-suite level positions are former athletes. What’s more, 52 percent played sports at the collegiate level.
This year, as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Title IX and laude its many achievements, participation in sports may be one of the largest gains for women. In 1972, only 294,000 girls and women participated in sports—in contrast to 3.6 million boys and men. Today, 3.4 million girls and women participate in sports, trailing behind boys and men’s participation by roughly 1 million.
This is terrific progress, but often with good intentions come unintended consequences. Prior to Title IX, 90 percent of head coaching positions for women’s college sports teams were held by women. After Title IX, many men’s and women’s athletic programs were consolidated into one department with a male athletic director. And, when universities started paying higher salaries to coaches of women’s teams, men started competing for them. The number of women coaches in women’s sports fell dramatically soon after the implementation of Title IX. Today, according to the 2021 report from the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES), women hold only 41% of all coaching positions in women’s collegiate sports.
The original language of Title IX was not focused solely on sports, but on increasing access to educational opportunities without sex-based discrimination. For decades, we saw educational opportunities for girls and women significantly increase:
- Since 1978, women have earned more than 50 percent of all associate degrees.
- Since 1982, women have earned more than 50 percent of all bachelor’s degrees.
- Since 1987, women have earned more than 50 percent of all master’s degrees.
- Since 2017, women have earned more than 50 percent of all doctoral degrees.
Yet, despite these improvements, structural and systemic barriers remain that prevent women from obtaining senior-level leadership positions—the infamous and persistent glass ceiling. Additionally, women continue to earn less than men in the same positions, with black and brown women earning even less than their white female counterparts.
Of course, legislation alone does not automatically create change. Chico State is fortunate that many heroic women have fought for women’s rights to equality in collegiate sports. It’s a tremendous sign of progress that women today come to Chico State without realizing there was a time when they couldn’t compete on a level playing field. Today, led by athletic director Anita Barker (a hero in her own right), 155 women student-athletes compete as Wildcats in seven NCAA sports.
That’s what makes this 50th anniversary so significant. It provides our younger student-athletes an opportunity to honor the heroes in Chico State history. There are too many to list, but three names that every Chico State student-athlete should know are:
- Joan Wallace, the head softball coach at Chico State for 25 years. Because Joan was a believer in promoting sporting opportunities for women, in 1992 the Women’s Sports Foundation honored her with the Northern California National Girls and Women’s Sports Day Title IX Pioneer Award.
- Fran Coslet, our legendary women’s basketball coach who started the modern-day women’s basketball program in 1969. In 20 years of guiding the program, her teams won eight conference championships and she was named conference coach of the year three times.
- Betty Lou Raker, who was chair of the Chico State physical education department from 1963–68. She was a pioneer for Northern California facilities development for girls in sports and greatly expanded women’s sports opportunities at Chico State.
While we celebrate 50 years of Title IX, there is still much more work to be done to move the needle toward equality for women, BIPOC, LGBTQ+, and other vulnerable and underserved populations over the next 50 years.
Recently, the US Department of Education proposed important amendments to Title IX. I encourage all of you to review these proposed changes. Some I think will have the most immediate impact are:
- Expanding the scope of protections against discrimination based on sex to include discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity—a potentially historic gain for LGBTQ+ students.
- Clarifying the types of accommodations students can access due to pregnancy, miscarriage, or abortion. This is important because pregnant students and those with children are often discouraged from and discriminated against when trying to continue their education.
- Providing clear processes and expectations to help schools meet Title IX obligations to eliminate sex discrimination in their programs and activities.
- Creating more transparency and consistency in how Title IX is applied to enhance its power to protect students.
The Department’s proposed Title IX regulations will be open for public comment for 60 days once published in the upcoming weeks. I encourage everyone to review the proposed improvements and participate in the process.
Meanwhile, we will continue to implement the tenets of Title IX at Chico State. Not only will we continue to build inclusive and safe communities of excellence, we will do so while maintaining a lens of equity, diversity, and inclusion for all people, especially those from historically underserved communities.
To that end, I will be participating in an American Council on Education Title IX Panel discussion on Wednesday, July 13. During this online discussion, we’ll celebrate 50 years of Title IX and discuss how to prepare for the future. I’d be honored if you’d attend.