Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 has proven to inspire much controversy over the decades since its passage. Commonly referred to as “Title IX,” the amendment sought to mitigate the effects of gender discrimination in American educational institutions. It was the first federal law of this sort, stipulating that all males and females must receive fair and equitable treatment in all aspects of educational life. Part of the amendment reads: “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, or denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any educational program or activity receiving federal assistance.” When considered in the context of the time of its enactment, the inflammatory nature of the law is much more apparent. Unfortunately, gender disparity was all too common in the early 1970’s. Today, Title IX has become a source of debate; modern audiences question whether or not the U.S. has a need for Title IX and whether or not it is fair. However, trends clearly show that Title IX was a much-needed measure that facilitated the development of parity among men and women, and it is of considerable benefit to the functioning of the national education system today.
The public perception of Title IX tends to differ substantially from the actual reality of the law. Such misinterpretations stem from the ready association between Title IX and athletics. Many Americans believe Title IX to be a law that is solely concerned with the issue of equality in men and women’s sports; in actuality, this is not the case. Title IX is broad in scope, addressing such areas as admissions, course offerings, financial aid, health benefits, and sexual harassment. Title IX lies at the very heart of the effort to make schools entirely equitable with respect to gender.
Another common misconception is the notion that schools must provide absolutely equal athletic opportunities for men and women. However, the law only demands “substantially proportionate” opportunities for athletes of either sex and asks that schools demonstrate a continual practice of opportunity expansion for the marginalized sex, be they male or female. Under Title IX, schools are not compelled to offer identical sports, only to accommodate the needs of both sexes within reason. Provided that the quality of facilities and services achieves parity, the actual financial contribution to respective sports teams may differ. In no way does Title IX require that male sports programs be scaled back, only that programs operate in a non-discriminatory fashion.
Perhaps much more importantly, Title IX has registered notable advances in the academic arena. Much of the obvious academic benefits reaped from Title IX can be disregarded because of the hype about athletics. Nevertheless, in the decades since its passage, tangible benefits are evident. As a direct result of Title IX, institutions may not offer courses and programs that are sexually segregated. Rare instances of an exception include sexual education classes and physical education classes that heavily focus on contact sports; it is permissible but not required to offer these classes separately.
Also, before Title IX, many schools did not offer admission to women or enforced strict quotas on the number that could be accepted. Since Title IX, women have had fairer prospects, as illustrated by the number of women admitted to professional schools. In 1994, women received 38% of medical degrees and 43% of law degrees offered in the United States, a stark contrast with the 1972 figures of 9% and 7%, respectively. Overall, 44% of all doctoral recipients in the U.S. citizens were women, a marked increase from 25% in 1977.
Another beneficial aspect of Title IX is that schools may not discriminate against pregnant women who are students. Studies have recognized a strong correlation between pregnancy and institutional dropout rates, and Title IX seeks to remedy the dropout problem. It has been documented that dropout rates among female student mothers have decreased significantly since the passage of Title IX. Many urban school districts have even gone so far as to open alternative schooling facilities to accommodate the special needs of student mothers, and they have done so with great success.
There are those who would criticize and defame Title IX. One particular group fears the deleterious effects of athletics on women. Clearly, women and men have fundamental physiological differences; these differences bear on the risk of injury in sports and affect athletic performance. Studies have shown that relative to men, a disproportionate number of women who participate in athletics are at risk for osteoporosis and a variety of other diseases. However, abolishing Title IX would not be an appropriate measure to address this problem. It is the choice of the women whether or not she is willing to assume the risk; Title IX forces no woman to participate in athletics. It only ensures that she is provided the opportunity. These critics might find their interests better served by pursuing their goals through other avenues; an educational campaign would be more effective than abolishing a law.
Many of the other critics of Title IX simply do not have a full understanding of the nature of the law. These ill-informed Title IX detractors fear that men sports suffer unjustifiably for the sake of some ideal of equality, yet the spirit of Title IX is not intended to be harmful toward male sports. Interestingly enough, it has been estimated that 80% of educational institutions in the U.S. are not in full compliance with Title IX. This staggering percentage demonstrates all too clearly that a lack of equanimity still exists more than three decades after the enactment of Title IX. Title IX is well-suited to the American educational system; it does not need to be revamped or scaled back. Its aims are simple and unambiguous: to eliminate discrimination on the basis of gender. No reasonable and informed citizen could argue for its abolition. Its current and potential benefits are too great, and the advantages of modifying it are far too ill-defined. Title IX serves its purpose well, and it is essential to the advancement of parity among the sexes and the fair and equitable functioning of the American education system.
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