Title IX was enacted as part of the Education Act Amendments of 1972. Its promise was simply this: educational institutions, programs, or activities that receive federal funds may not discriminate on the basis of sex. The promise applies to all levels of education, from elementary schools to undergraduate colleges, professional schools, and vocational programs.
Enactment of Title IX was one of the first policy victories of the 2nd wave women’s movement, and as such was the focus of controversy. The Washington Post and New York Times opposed it in editorials; college presidents decried it; college football coaches demeaned it; and many members of Congress tried to figure out ways to weaken it.
The attack on Title IX intensified soon after it became law. The loudest assault came from the male athletics lobby – the NCAA, and legions of college football fans. Although Title IX was not enacted with women’s athletics primarily in mind, the male sports establishment certainly predicted correctly that under Title IX, women would flourish as athletes.
Despite their fierce efforts, naysayers lost their legislative battle to undermine Title IX by limiting its scope. As a result, educational opportunities for girls and women expanded exponentially, dramatically opening up whole fields of endeavor.
The most obvious barriers to women's full and equal educational opportunites began to disappear with Title IX's passage. But Title IX's champions knew that inequalities run deep, permeating school practices and peer cultures. Title IX advocates anticipated that the road to full equality would be slow going and that navigating that road successfully would require never-ending vigilance to ensure that implementing regulations are not diluted, that compliance is robust, and that girls and women throughout the educational process know their rights and remedies.
The history of Title IX over forty years is really the story of millions of bold and resilient girls and women who have enforced Title IX by their actions -- by resisting exclusion; demanding fairness; exposing sexual harassment; and challenging educational institutions to change because of the contributions of women.
So, kudos -- and thank you -- to everyone who has dared to struggle for equality. Title IX will continue to be important only if it continues to advance that struggle. Going forward, we must all hone Title IX to pierce and transform the culture of educational institutions, to dispel stereotypes that impede women's incorporation on equal footing, and to undermine the gross disparities in money and other resources that make it difficult for many girls and women to pursue the opportunities that Title IX assures.