Forty-three years ago, Congress passed Title IX as part of the Education Amendments. This significant piece of legislation prohibited any education programs or activities that receive federal financial assistance from discriminating on the basis of sex. Since its passing, Title IX has helped women around the country. It has helped women enter professions in fields like medicine and law, allowed women to obtain important leadership positions, and led to a stronger movement against sexual harassment in schools. For all that it has done though, it has a long way to go. Sexism, both explicit and implicit, is still widespread.
These are three reasons Title IX still matters, 43 years later.
1. Sexual assault is a huge, ongoing issue at colleges and universities.
Recently, the issue of sexual assault has received wide attention from colleges, politicians, and the media. Sexual assault has been and still is a major problem on college campuses across the country. In fact, one in five women will experience sexual assault during their time in college. Universities, instead of dealing with these cases, have covered them up or brushed them aside, choosing to protect their reputations and donations at the expense of students’ safety. In doing so, they have perpetuated a harmful culture built around discrimination, biases, and fear.
Title IX is extremely critical in ending sexual assault. Under Title IX, universities must have an established procedure for handling sexual assault and must protect students against retaliation from the college if they file a complaint. If universities do not uphold this law, students have the right to file a Title IX complaint. Some of these complaints have been effective in creating change. At the University of Colorado Boulder, for example, two women received a $2.85 million settlement from their lawsuit. The university also implemented policy changes and forced several administrators to resign, including the President. If schools consistently have a problem with mismanaging sexual assault cases, the Department of Education may even step in. Currently the Department is investigating 106 schools for mishandling sexual assault cases and violating Title IX.
At my college, I have a right to safety. I have a right to walk around campus and attend events without fear that something will happen to me. And if I am sexually assaulted on my college campus, I have a right to ensure that my case is taken seriously and dealt with appropriately. Title IX protects these rights for me and college students around the country. Without Title IX, colleges and politicians would have continued to ignore the problem, but now they are actively establishing resources and legislation to try to address it. Yes, we still have a long way to go when it comes to the fight against campus sexual assault, but without Title IX, who knows how far back we would be?
2. There is still a dearth of women in more quantitative fields like STEM and Economics.
As an Economics major, it is not unusual for me to be one of only a few women in my classes. Last semester, I remember looking around and being uncomfortable, but not surprised, that there were just three women in a class of fifteen. The fact that only 20 percent of my class was women would probably shock some people. Women, after all, have made great strides in equal representation in schools. But for someone who has taken several economics and math classes in her life, I was used to it.
Unfortunately, I am not alone in this feeling. Women are still struggling to break into more math-heavy fields like STEM and Economics. In 2013, women made up only about 19 percent of associate degrees in fields like physics and engineering. In Economics, the number is not much better with women making up only 29 percent of bachelor degrees in 2012.
So why is this still happening? And no, it is not because men are somehow innately better at subjects like math and science than women. I find these claims to be ridiculous, and frankly, rather insulting. One of the actual reasons why there is still this persistent gender gap is because of pervading cultural biases. When society perpetuates gender norms and tells women that they do not belong in these fields, they start to internalize that message. Gender biases can prevent women from pursuing these subjects in the first place, hurt their academic performance, and influence whether parents and teachers encourage them to pursue careers in these fields.
All of this frustrates me, but this is why it is so important for more women to enter these fields. This is why I still need Title IX. Title IX allows me to break and avoid these gender biases. It gives me the power to study subjects that I am passionate about, even if they have been traditionally dominated by men, and provides opportunities to show my colleagues and my professors that I am just as capable of doing well in Economics as any male student. In doing all of this, Title IX helps eliminate discrimination in the field. Title IX has already done this in the past, but it needs to continue to do so until women have achieved full equality in all academic subjects.
3. Colleges still suffer from a lack of female professors.
In college, most of my professors so far have been men. And while many of them have been great, a part of me misses that connection I had with a lot of my female teachers in high school. And I am not the only student who feels this way. One study, for example, has shown that women are more interested and participate more in subjects that are taught by female professors, and this in turn improves their performances.
Unfortunately, there are not many opportunities for women to learn from other women. In 2013, only 24 percent of professors were women. This number is a little confusing because women are actually earning more PhDs than men. This begs the question: where are all the women professors? The fact of the matter is that women are being discriminated against. Women in academia are less likely than men to get promoted to full professorship or tenure status, earn lower salaries than men, advance more slowly in their careers, and face instances of blatant sexism that drive them out of their fields.
As someone who is still looking for a role model, having more female professors is imperative for me. Title IX seeks to make that happen. By working to eliminate discrimination in these fields, Title IX builds a bigger network of women professors. It helps women become successful in their fields and lets younger women like me find mentors so that we can succeed as well. It creates this cycle that fosters an environment for women to flourish.
These are only three of the many reasons why I still need Title IX, but women need Title IX for a whole host of other reasons. Some need it so that they can have equal opportunities to play the sports they are passionate about or so they can receive certain career and technical education. Others need it to protect themselves from discrimination based on their gender identity. The list goes on and on. Title IX has been monumental in promoting women’s rights, but gender inequality is still a huge problem. So while I thank you Title IX for everything you have done for me and women around the country, your work is not done yet.