College x
Title IX, a civil rights law passed in 1972
Illustration by Tiphany Jackson, University of the Arts

This groundbreaking piece of legislation transformed women’s sports and revolutionized the female experience in schools.

June 23 marks the 50th anniversary of Title IX, the groundbreaking legislative accomplishment that prohibits sex discrimination in schools and recognizes gender equality in education as a universal civil right. Whether in regard to admissions, athletics, sexual harassment or housing, the civil rights law provides students with fundamental protections against sex and gender-based discrimination. To this day, Title IX ensures equality in education by fostering safe, nurturing and respectful educational environments for students across the United States.

Passed in 1972, Title IX simply reads: “No Person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.” Though so concisely written, the impact of Title IX is profound and far-reaching.

Before Title IX was passed into U.S. law, there were some existing federal protections against sex discrimination. Most notably, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibited sex-based discrimination in employment and hiring practices. Although Title VII was certainly a milestone in and of itself, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 did not address sex discrimination within education in any capacity. Title IX was certainly not the first legislative effort to prevent sex discrimination, but it filled in the gaps of existing legislation and provided more comprehensive protections against sexism and gender-based discrimination.

Enforcement of Title IX

To ensure the enforceability of the law, there are a variety of measures to hold schools accountable to Title IX policy. First, Title IX mandates that higher educational institutions such as colleges and universities hire a designated Title IX coordinator, whose entire role is to ensure that an institution is abiding by the policies, regulations and protocol prescribed by Title IX. Coordinators are responsible for addressing all potential cases of sex discrimination within an institution and for organizing the institution’s response.

Moreover, any institution that does not comply with the regulations set forth by the law risks losing all of its federal funding. Title IX was designed to ensure that institutions’ federal funding is contingent upon the proactive elimination of sex discrimination. In other words, Title IX incentivizes institutions to provide equal opportunities and equal treatment to students of all genders. Given that the vast majority of educational institutions rely on federal funding, the law was — and remains to be — deeply effective in securing greater gender equality.

Schools receiving federal funding are also mandated to publish a “grievance procedure,” which outlines the course of action that the school must take when a complaint of sex discrimination is filed. This grievance procedure also establishes protocols for investigations of sex and gender discrimination, sexual harassment and sexual violence. This procedure must also be available to the public, allowing students to understand their school’s policies regarding sex discrimination.

Preventing Sex Discrimination

As explained, Title IX prohibits institutions receiving federal aid from treating an individual differently on the basis of sex. More specifically, the civil rights law prevents institutions from denying female students admission into educational programs or activities, and from generally showing preference toward male candidates.

Further, Title IX not only prevents institutions from denying girls scholarships, aid, benefits and services, but it also prevents institutions from providing male and female students with different scholarships, aid, benefits and services. In the same vein, Title IX also establishes that resources must be allocated equally across all students. In essence, the law ensures that girls are not systemically gatekept from educational opportunities and are equally eligible for any and all education-related endeavors.

Addressing Sexual Harassment

One of the primary objectives of Title IX legislation is to eliminate sexual harassment from educational settings and allow all students and faculty to learn and work in a safe environment, free from fear. Although instances of sexual harassment, violence and abuse still sadly persist within most educational institutions, the civil rights law still serves a critical function.

According to the law, a school has a responsibility to respond in a prompt, effective and equitable manner to reports of sexual harassment and sexual violence. If a school is aware of a case of sexual harassment that is creating a hostile environment or preventing students from learning, the school is required to eliminate the harassment, address its impact on the affected students and enact measures to prevent a future occurrence.

Furthermore, if a school has reason to believe that sexual harassment or sexual violence is occurring, the school must carry out an investigation. By law, this investigation must occur, regardless of whether the student requests this. While this may sound counterintuitive, this is necessary to ensure that students are not coerced into silence about ongoing sexual harassment and sexual violence. By taking the threat of sexual violence so seriously, these procedures not only condemn sexual violence but also ensure that perpetrators of sexual violence and harassment are held accountable.

Impact of Title IX on Women’s Athletics

Title IX is centered around providing equal and fair opportunities for all students, regardless of gender, in all educational goals and activities. In addition to academic pursuits and extracurricular clubs, the law also applies to school athletics at both the high school and collegiate levels.

By eliminating barriers to women’s participation in athletics and opening up multiple opportunities for girls to pursue athletic careers in college, Title IX has transformed women’s sports. Prior to the enactment of the law, scholarships for women’s sports were almost entirely unheard of. Moreover, women only comprised roughly 2% of college students participating in athletics, and only about one in 27 girls in the United States played sports. Today, women comprise almost 42% of college athletes, and two in five girls play sports. As demonstrated by this data, Title IX was pivotal in expanding girls’ athletic opportunities. It challenged the longstanding, sexist assumption that sports are designed for men. In the years since its passage, there has been immense progress toward gender equality in high school and college sports.

Pregnancy-Related Protections

Title IX also guarantees students the right to take excused time off from school for pregnancy and pregnancy-related causes, including childbirth, false pregnancy, miscarriage, and abortion services and procedures. Title IX allows students to take off as much time as their doctor advises. These protections apply in cases of long-term medical leave as well. Under Title IX, it is illegal for institutions to penalize or punish a student for being absent or taking medical leave for pregnancy-related causes.

If a school permits at-home learning for students with severe illness, then a school is mandated to provide the same accommodations for pregnant students. Furthermore, upon returning to school, a student must be allowed to reenter in equal standing and continue on the course of their education without further setbacks.

A Cause for Celebration

In the past 50 years, Title IX has revolutionized the female experience in schools. For the first time in U.S. history, it condemned sex discrimination in education on a federal level. In doing this, Title IX not only increased women’s opportunities for educational and athletic success but also safeguarded their fundamental rights. On its 50th anniversary, the civil rights law must be celebrated as the legislative milestone that it was.

Writer Profile

Nora Weiss

George Washington University
Political Science, Psychology

Nora Weiss is a rising junior at George Washington University. Writing has been a lifelong passion and tool for self-expression for Nora, and she is very excited to be part of the Study Breaks team.

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