Title IX protects fundamental rights in education

When most people think of Title IX, the first thing that comes to mind is sports. I mean, that’s what Title IX was all about, right? It was the law that basically said that colleges had to have women’s sports teams, right?

Yes, that’s true, but Title IX is so much more than that.

Title IX is the reason why I, as a woman, can attend university without having to worry about being subjected to institutional discrimination because of my gender. When Title IX was enacted in 1972, there was no federal law that actually protected women from being discriminated against in education. Colleges could legally deny a woman admission just for being a woman — which many of them did, through the imposition of gender quotas that capped the number of women admitted in any given incoming freshman class.

While sports are important too — no female athlete should ever have to worry about being told she can’t play just because she’s female — Title IX applies to anything that interferes with your right to receive an education based on your gender.

In fact, the actual text of Title IX states that it applies to all discrimination on the basis of gender, not just sports:

“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.”

In other words, every college that receives federal funding has to obey Title IX, and has since the six-year grace period for compliance ran out in 1978. While there are still gender gaps that need fixing (the famous underrepresentation of women in science, technology, engineering and math immediately comes to mind), Title IX has done more than any other law to ensure that women can actually receive an education on a fair and equitable basis.

One of the most critical of these protections has been the requirement that schools investigate claims of sexual misconduct against students, and offer protective measures for those who report such crimes — protections that may be undermined by recent changes to the federal guidelines governing Title IX compliance (see “Reason Behind the Ranking” in the Sept. 28 issue of the University Press).

This is because sexual assault or harassment, and institutional indifference to it, can create an environment so hostile that the students being subjected to it don’t want to go to school — and are subsequently unable to receive an education. Title IX is the reason why schools can be held legally accountable when they do not take reports of sex crimes on their campuses seriously.

Given its importance, every student and faculty member on every college campus in America needs to be familiar with Title IX, and what rights are guaranteed under it, because if we do not hold people and schools accountable, no one will – especially not now. It is up to us, therefore, to ensure that its protections are upheld, and that it does not become just empty words on a page.

Learn more about Lamar University at lamar.edu

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