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Title IX, A Work in Progress

July 10, 2012 By Leah Sorensen, Undergraduate Research Fellow

Last month, we celebrated the 40th anniversary of a landmark piece of legislation, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. Title IX, which prohibits gender discrimination in any education program or activity that receives federal funding, was signed on June 23, 1972 by President Richard Nixon, and the regulations took effect three years later in 1975. But 40 years later, some of the promises made by Title IX still remain unfulfilled.

Title IX is most recognized for giving women in high school and college access to athletics. And indeed, Title IX has done that, though at rates that still fall behind those of men. According to the National Women’s Law Center, the number of female high school students competing in athletics grew from 295,000 in 1972 to 3.2 million in 2011. In comparison, the number of males competing in high school athletics in 2011 was 4.5 million.

Title IX is about more than just athletics. It was created to provide equity in all federally funded education programs, by prohibiting discrimination and requiring equal opportunities. It cannot be overlooked that Title IX promises not only to give students fair entry into school-based athletics, but also to have access to STEM studies (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), to be protected from sexual harassment, to receive educational equity as a pregnant student, and to be free from gender classifications based on stereotypes or assumptions.

Since Title IX's passage, women have made great strides towards receiving equitable educational access and treatment. In the early 1980s, women began enrolling in undergraduate colleges at rates higher than men were enrolling. In 2011, the number of women earning advanced college degrees surpassed that of men. Despite these strides, there are still gaps that must be closed before gender equality in education can become a reality.

Title IX still falls glaringly short of providing gender equity through fair and equal access to study in the STEM fields, in which women have been historically underrepresented and undervalued. Pervasive stereotypes assert that women lack both in interest and aptitude in math and science. But since the passage of Title IX, women have shown that when given the opportunity, they have the skill to excel in STEM fields.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, 8th grade girls and boys score equally well on national mathematics assessments. Even though girls have higher GPAs than boys in math and science courses during high school, after middle school there is a greater drop off of females studying STEM than males at every stage of educational attainment.

At the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities, the 2011 graduates of the College of Science and Engineering were 80% male, according to the schools website. Chemistry majors were 66.1% male, computer engineering majors were 93.5% male, mathematics majors were 74.4% male, and physics majors were 81.8% males.

The underrepresentation of women earning STEM degrees is aggravated by an underrepresentation of women in STEM career fields. In 2009, 40% of the 6.7 million men with STEM degrees had careers in STEM, while only 26% of the 2.5 million women with STEM degrees had careers in STEM. Dramatic inequalities in STEM place women at an economic disadvantage to men because STEM jobs tend to be some of the highest paying in the country, and they tend to have the smallest gender pay gaps. Not providing equitable STEM education also functions to place us at a technological disadvantage to other countries that encourage women in STEM.

Another major shortfall of Title IX has been its failed promise to protect women from pregnancy discrimination. Both subtle and overt acts of pregnancy discrimination continue to pressure or force women to drop out of school, despite the fact that Title IX makes it illegal for pregnant or parenting students to be denied equal access to school and school activities, or to deny pregnant students excused absences for pregnancy related medical care. Illegal pregnancy discrimination further serves to disadvantage minority women, who are disproportionately affected by pregnancy discrimination.

At the same time, other violations of Title IX remain pervasive. Both men and women continue to face sexual harassment in schools, and administrators continue to fail in properly addressing their complaints. Women continue to be defined by stereotypes, blocking their fair access to career and technical education.

Title IX cannot provide equitable opportunities for women in Minnesota, or women anywhere else in the country, until we cease encouraging stereotypes that underestimate women’s abilities, start welcoming young girls into underrepresented fields through increased visibility and outreach, stop using administrative policies and processes that were designed many years ago to favor men, end misconceptions about Title IX hurting men’s access to athletics, insist that all Title IX coordinators are well-informed and active in providing training, and demand the enforcement of all of Title IX’s policies.

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