50 Years of Title IX
June 23 marked 50 years since Richard Nixon signed Title IX into law. Title IX, a 37-word law, changed the landscape of education and sports for women. However, credit for this bill does not belong to the late former president. Instead, two women should be credited: Patsy Mink and Edith Green.
Mink was a trailblazer for women in government. She was the first Hawaiian woman, the first woman of color, the first Japanese-American, and the youngest person to serve Hawaii in Congress. Both Mink and Green prioritized education and gender equality.
Green is a Willamette Law School alumna. She attended Willamette Law from 1927-1929. She grew up in Salem and taught in Salem for ten years here. In 1954, Green became the second woman to represent Oregon in the House of Representatives. She served for twenty years and was given the nickname “Mrs. Education” because of her intense focus on education and the need for diversification in the public school system. Her most lasting legacy was Title IX.
Title IX passed through Congress despite adamant pushback from many men in office. When it passed, Green said, “I don’t know when I have ever been so pleased.” While Title IX remains the law 50 years later, it is not without problems. One of the many issues plaguing sports across the country is a lack of women coaches.
According to a Forbes magazine report, before 1972, women held “90% of the head coaching positions for women’s teams.” Today, around 40% of women’s teams and approximately 10% of men's teams across the NCAA have women coaches. Athletic directors are also predominantly men. Willamette Volleyball Head Coach Lily Hallock said, “One of the major downfalls of Title IX is that as there has been more money put into women's athletics, more men are now in charge.”
Of the 11 women’s teams on campus, five are coached by women. None of the men's teams have women coaches. A majority of the school's assistant coaches are men as well. This is not to say Willamette has practiced misogynistic hiring practices. Instead, it shows the persistence of misogyny in the NCAA. Hallock insists the Athletic Department “truly believes in equality between men and women's sports.” While gender diversity in coaching has been negatively affected by Title IX, the athletes have benefitted.
Before 1972, only 1 in 27 girls participated in high school sports. Today around 2 in 5 girls are playing sports in high school. Hallock highlighted this progress. She explained that Title IX’s implementation exposed stark contrasts between her adolescence to her mother’s. Hallock explained that her mother “grew up in the 1950s, where that meant that she got to play sports a couple of times a year.” Hallock, on the other hand, could begin sports in the first grade. These changes to the landscape of women’s sports have enhanced diversity at the collegiate level. Before 1972, 15% of collegiate athletes were women. Today, almost half of collegiate athletes are women (44%). However, equality in numbers is not the only way for schools to stay within the guidelines of Title IX. As Associate Athletic Director and Senior Woman Administrator Leslie Shevlin explained, “Most schools, especially with a football team, and most schools in general, very rarely meet proportionality.”
Recently, the Athletic Department has made serious efforts to maintain Title IX compliance. However, the department has not been immune to controversy. In 2016, “The university made the difficult decision to end the rowing program really because of safety. We were using the Willamette River, currents had changed, there was not a safe and sustainable way to continue that program,” said Rob Passage, Willamette athletic director. Willamettel faced backlash on the decision from both athletes and the student body. So how is Willamette Title IX-compliant today? The law only requires schools to meet one of the three requirements of Title IX to be compliant. Today, Willamette meets two of the three options.
In 2016, the rowing team argued that the athletic department did not meet any. They did not meet the first prong because athletics should represent a proportionally equal athletics population to the student body. Nor did they meet the second prong, “the school must demonstrate a continual expansion of athletic opportunities for the underrepresented sex.” (Collegian 2016) At the time, Willamette had not created a new team for women in over two decades. The third prong requires schools to fully accommodate both interests and abilities of the underrepresented sex in sports. At the time, it appeared Willamette did not meet this requirement either. They disbanded a full roster while not bringing in more women athletes.
Willamette’s athletic department came to terms with the rowing team and Title IX requirements. Athletics resolved the issue of disbanding rowing by planning to implement women’s lacrosse and triathlon. The athletic department has stressed the difficulty of implementing new sports. Shevlin explained, “typically, sports… have to hit a certain threshold, and then they're an actual sport, where the NCAA sponsors the national championship.” Before that point, sports can only be considered a club. Yet the Athletics Department has found a way to add two NCAA sports in the last six years.
The lack of local competition played a role in the time it took to add these sports. Shevlin explained the difficulties for Willamette were geographical, “[Willamette is the only] institution in Oregon or Washington [that competes in triathlon]. There are some Colorado and California schools, although not Division III.” This means Willamette triathletes must travel out of state to Illinois during their regular season.
Another problem some people have with Title IX is the binary gender language. Shevlin explained how the school has made efforts to accommodate students with a “transgender inclusion policy for athletics and Campus Recreation… [that] is up for revision. We just had a group meeting the other day. We will work on a revision because a lot has happened in that space.” This issue has seen a lot of debates in the courts, but is continuing to evolve.
LGBTQ representation transcends Willamette. The NCAA has not changed its stance on the gender binary. As Shevlin explained, Willamette and the NWC has allowed students who identify differently than their assigned gender at birth to play. But many transitioning students may be held out of competition at the national level.
Overall, Title IX’s legacy has had positive effects on US athletics. On one hand, coaches and those making decisions in sports are still predominantly men. However, women’s athletics has become more competitive as more and more girls are growing up playing sports. It is not as if Title IX could change the landscape of sports all by itself, Passage, said it best when he said,”there’s still room to grow.” It will take continued efforts to diversify athletics at Willamette, the NWC, and the NCAA. This year, we celebrate Title IX for all the advances the law has made in sports.