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Title IX: 40 Years after Its Passage, Schools Still Working to End Discrimination

February 6, 2013

2012 saw the 40th anniversary of Title IX, a portion of the Education Amendments of 1972 signed into law by President Richard Nixon. Many regard Title IX as a landmark piece of legislation that helped ensure that women have the same ability as men to participate in the stereotypically masculine STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and to join public school-affiliated sports teams. Although less obvious from the text of the legislation, Title IX has also legislated fair treatment for pregnant and parenting students and helped protect students from bullying and sexual harassment.

Another name for this law, one that includes the name of its author, a congresswoman from Hawaii, is the Patsy Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act. The language 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…”

The National Women’s Law Center lists 10 “areas” that the law covers: “access to higher education, career education, employment, math and science, standardized testing, athletics, education for pregnant and parenting students, learning environment, sexual harassment, and technology.” While this group celebrates the passage and positive impact of Title IX, they are quick to assert that there are thousands of schools across the country that operate in violation of the law in some way or another.

As a case in point, one member of this organization tells us about her client, an honor student attending a community college in New York City on a scholarship. Her client was expecting a child at the end of a semester, and three of her professors congratulated her and told her that they would be willing to work with her should her pregnancy interfere with her coursework or exam schedule. One of her teachers, however, would not allow any such flexibility, and a dean at the school reaffirmed her decision, saying basically that “each professor gets to set his or her own leave and make-up rules, regardless of what those rules are. And if you don’t like it, you’ll have to drop the class.”

The end result was that this student had to drop the class, which disqualified her from a scholarship award, forcing her to withdraw from the program. There is now a lawsuit pending in this case, and the student’s attorneys are claiming that this series of events is due to the school violating Title IX.

This case illustrates the gap between ending discrimination in theory and in practice, and President Obama affirmed his support for Title IX, writing, “I’ll do my part to keep Title IX strong and vibrant, and maintain our schools as doorways of opportunity so every child has a fair shot at success.” The Huffington Post further points out, “In 1972, when the law was passed, 43 percent of students enrolling in degree-granting institutions were women, compared with 57 percent of new students in 2010.”

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