The notion of doing something “like a girl” has carried a variety of social and cultural meanings, as explored in last year’s Super Bowl advertisement and continued in the (viral) #LikeAGirl Campaign. The Super Bowl ad for Always asked people to explain the concept of “like a girl,” and many of the answers and depictions illuminated a negative association. While many young women see themselves just as they are (or how they want to be seen), others see them differently. Some individuals may hold onto antiquated ideas which suggest that ‘male’ and ‘masculine’ are somehow better, and ‘female’ and ‘feminine’ are lesser in terms of worthiness, value, and potential.
Gender discrimination and related issues like the pay gap, lack of women in leadership roles, and family leave restrictions has inspired leaders in all fields, including many OΔK members, to challenge cultural norms and create change. The passage of Title IX represents one major shift, and this legislation continues to impact campus life today.
While Title IX has had a significant positive effect on fair access to education, sports, and campus life, legislation and practices must continue to evolve to ensure equality. Title IX largely grew out of the work of Rep. Patsy T. Mink of Hawaii, the first woman of color and first Asian-American elected to the House of Representatives, Senator Birch Bayh (Ind.), and Rep. Edith Louise Starrett Green (Ore.), among others.
Senator Bayh, a 1965 OΔK initiate of the Purdue University Circle, wrote, “Title IX grew out of my work sponsoring the Equal Rights Amendment in the early 1970s.” At the time, women still did not have equal opportunity in higher education as students, faculty, or staff. When his then-wife, Marvella, wished to continue her education at the University of Virginia, she was told, “women need not apply.”
As Bayh writes, “Prior to Title IX, women students were denied equal opportunities under the law in academics; women applicants were routinely denied equal access to medical, law, and other graduate disciplines; and women athletes were denied equal participation in sports. Similarly, female faculty members were denied equal compensation and promotion.”
Title IX, officially The Education Amendment of 1972, and later renamed the Patsy T. Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act, states:
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. — 20 U.S.C. 1681
Stemming in part from the previously enacted Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (which “provides that an employer may not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin”), historian and author William Glover explains, “Title IX extends that same philosophy to any program that receives funding from the federal government.”
Since Title IX’s promise of protection under the law, the growth in opportunity for women has expanded immensely. According to the National Collegiate Athletic Association, women’s participation in college sports has increased more than fivefold since the law’s passage. Before Title IX, a General Accounting Office report found 30,000 female undergraduates participated in athletics compared to 248,000 men at American colleges and universities. According to Bayh’s website, “women’s sports received less than two percent of college athletic budgets before Title IX; they now receive 37 percent. Women’s representation among law school students has risen from seven percent to 43 percent and from nine percent to 41 percent of medical school students. On college and university faculties, the proportion of women professors has risen from 18 percent to almost 40 percent.” Women now account for more than half of the nation’s undergraduate and graduate students overall.
The history of female leadership in OΔK stretches back to the same time in the early 1970s. Women were not offered membership during the first sixty years of OΔK’s history. However, members from the University of Alabama argued for the inclusion of women at the 1970 and 1972 national conventions. In 1974, OΔK initiated its first female members.Since then, the inclusion and vital participation of women in OΔK has grown considerably and now reflects the significance of women in higher education and as leaders in their communities.
Cheryl M. Hogle, after serving four terms as faculty province director and two terms as national vice president for extension, became the first woman national president of OΔK, elected unanimously in OΔK’s second woman president, Betsy Bugg Holloway, served in the position from 2010- Also, female members play integral roles on the Society Board of Directors, the Foundation Board of Trustees, and the National Advisory Council. Today, while OΔK does not keep a tally of membership by gender, the organization as a whole continues to strive for even greater inclusion and recognizes outstanding leaders of all genders.
Unquestionably, Title IX continues to play an important part in education and opportunity, yet challenges to gender equality still exist. As stated by the National Coalition for Women and Girls in Education.
“Women’s advancement in some areas, including computer science and engineering, has stagnated or even declined in recent years. Pregnant and parenting students are frequently subjected to unlawful policies and practices that deter them from completing their education. Nearly half of all middle and high school students report being sexually harassed in school.”
In today’s context, Title IX often connects to trending topics in sports administration, funding of programs, and sexual assault. According to Barbara Winslow, in “The Impact of Title IX,” the law also addresses equality in many other areas, including “access to higher education, career education, education for pregnant and parenting students, employment, learning environment, math and science, sexual harassment, standardized testing, and technology.”
Valerie Holmes, an OΔK initiate of the Grand Valley State University Circle and associate dean of students in the Office of Student Conduct at Wake Forest University, explains: “There continues to be a shroud of misunderstanding around Title IX, because in the 40 years of amendments and public focus of the law we are just now making the law central to the daily function of colleges. With the development of Title IX offices on college campuses, there is a renewed interest in sex discrimination in education bringing light to aspects of the law well beyond intercollegiate athletics […]. The focus is on education, awareness, process, implementation, transparency, and assessment of sexual discrimination and sexual misconduct. Today, more so than yesterday, stakeholders are better informed with facts about their rights and the requirements of institutions of higher education. This increase in information and media attention has created pressure for campuses to develop and almost simultaneously master, provide oversight, and implementation of the law. Because the focus of Title IX is on students, faculty, and staff, there is a much broader scope to the work that Title IX coordinators perform.”
A major criticism today is the handling of sexual violence on college campuses. Title IX requires institutions to handle sexual assault cases in addition, or prior, to reporting to local law enforcement agencies. In some cases, this allows institutions of higher education to respond quickly to survivors’ needs that would go unaddressed by the criminal justice system. In others, college and university employees and departments lack the resources and training to handle such cases. A result, students experience inconsistencies, stigmatization, and are even discouraged from reporting sexual violence or harrassment.
Regulations need enforcement, and many of the significant issues related to Title IX —discrimination, sexism, and violence—have not gone away. Today, both male and notably female students continue to face aggression and gender discrimination. These acts violate student safety and trust and significantly interfere with their success in college and beyond.
The statistics show, and as President Barack Obama mentioned in his 2016 State of the Union address, we still have work to do to ensure equality and “equal pay for equal work, paid leave […] and making education affordable for all.” It has only been 43 years since Title IX was passed into law, and even fewer years since the Equal Rights Amendment failed to be ratified; yet women still struggle to have their rights be recognized by the law.
Shay Chan Hodges, author of Lean On and Lead, a book about participating in the 21st century economy while raising children, notes, “Female voters have outnumbered males in every presidential race since 1964, but that has neither eliminated the gender pay gap, nor assured equal employment opportunities. Voting alone has yet to resolve vital issues that disproportionately affect women, and, in particular, mothers, such as paid sick leave, parental leave, flexible workplaces, affordable childcare and college, living wages for caregivers, and a fair minimum wage.”
Organizations like OΔK recognize leaders and provide leadership opportunities, and members in OΔK often go on to become leaders in countless fields, working to eliminate social and cultural gender biases. For instance, as an undergraduate intern in 2014 in the Office of Vice President Joe Biden, Najaah Daniels, a recent president of the St. John’s University Circle, worked with the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault. Her work helped to create sexual assault awareness and addressing the Title IX concern of ensuring a safe campus environment for all students.
As a result of efforts beginning even before the mandate of Title IX, women and men now can access diverse fields of interest and can attend whichever schools they choose—and ideally, they can become members of any organization for which they meet the standards. Still more has to be accomplished to ensure that students enjoy their educational opportunities safely and without judgment. Continued vigilance is necessary because, as Patsy T. Mink said, “We all need to be reminded that since Title IX was put in place by a legislative body, it can be taken away by a legislative body.” Women’s rights were not protected by law until the 20th century, yet thanks to the work of many people, including OΔK members, from Birch Bayh to current advocates, the right steps have been taken to erase bias and stereotypes and to ensure safety, equity, and prosperity.