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Title IX and the Rise of the Female Student-Athlete

Katie Ledecky. Simone Biles. Serena Williams. Lindsey Vonn. Lauren Jackson.

You know these women. You know them because of their incredible athletic talent. But you probably wouldn’t if it wasn’t for one single sentence.

“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.”

This is Title IX.

Under Title IX, American University (well, all American universities, but I’ll focus on my own) prohibits sex or gender-based harassment and discrimination, sexual violence, relationship violence, and stalking. It also protects university members against sexual harassment, discrimination, discriminatory harassment, dating and domestic violence, rape, sexual assault, sexual exploitation, and stalking. 

Title IX basically has zero tolerance for discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex (including pregnancy), age, sexual orientation, disability, marital status, personal appearance, gender identity and expression, family responsibilities, political affiliation, source of income, veteran status, an individual’s genetic information or any other bases under federal or local laws in literally all university-affiliated activities, events, and in daily campus life. Additionally, the university explicitly prohibits any type of discriminatory harassment. Dating harassment includes dating violence, domestic violence, rape, sexual assault, sexual harassment, and stalking.

Common Misconceptions about Title IX:

Misconception:  Title IX is all about having an equal number of men and women’s sports teams. 

Truth: While Title IX does require the opportunity for men and women in sports-related functions, it conveys a very serious purpose regarding discrimination, harassment, sexual violence, etc. 

Misconception: Title IX only helps with discrimination against women.

Truth: Title IX obliges universities to respond to complaints of sex and gender discrimination regardless of the sex of the alleged perpetrator or complainant. This is not only limited to male-female interactions, but to same-sex interactions as well. Additionally, Title IX protects against discrimination based on gender identity or failure to conform to society’s perceived norms of masculinity or femininity.

Misconception: Title IX only applies to athletic programs.

Truth: This is the most common misconception about Title IX. Athletics are only a portion of academic life protected by Title IX. Title IX protects all faculty, staff and students on campus in all facets of a university’s activities and events. Other areas which fall within the scope of Title IX include course access, financing, counseling, and hiring and terminating employees, to name a few. Title IX does not just protect against gender-based discrimination; it protects all university personnel against sexual violence, discrimination and harassment. 

Why is Title IX important?

Title IX protects both men and women alike. It doesn’t just promote equal opportunity in sports, it also protects against violence within institutions. Title IX is so unique because it empowers the constituents within an institution as a whole, without unequally providing benefits to one group over the other. 

The Rise of the Female Athlete

Title IX is quite honestly one of the great civil rights success stories in education. Before Title IX (1970’s), less than 30,000 female students participated in sports at NCAA affiliated institutions. As of 2014, there are 210,000. That’s 7 times the amount from 1972, making it obvious that the population of female student-athletes is growing at an exponential rate. Strengthening Title IX means supporting women’s rights in a lot of different ways. In addition to breaking down barriers to allow for more women in sports, Title IX vigorously enforces rules prohibiting sexual harassment and sexual violence on college campuses. 

Literally, Title IX states that “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 educational program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” Title IX was enacted in 1972 to provide everyone with an equitable opportunity to any program, activity, or event that benefits from federal financial assistance. Therefore, as a female athlete, I am grateful for Title IX and the leaps and bounds a single policy has created for my teammates and I. It especially opens doors for women of color because of it’s stringent clause prohibiting discrimination based on race and ethnicity.

Before Title IX, one in 27 girls participated in sports. Today that number has grown to two in five. Globally, we still have a lot of work to accomplish before every girl has equal access to sports, but it is very evident that women are making huge strides in athletics as a result of  Title IX implementation. And now, we are the daughters of the Title IX revolution: young women running, swimming, flipping, and kicking their way through college without fear of sexism in our sport. 

Who does it protect?

Title IX is a federal civil rights law. Title IX is not just about female survivors and victims, as it applies to anyone experiencing discrimination. Students, faculty, staff, and all university employees are guaranteed protection. The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) enforces Title IX to guarantee that institutions that receive federal financial assistance from the Department of Education comply with the law. Basically, if someone reports a sexual assault, an investigation must occur. Due process is necessary for the accuser and the accused alike in order to avoid discrimination.

Title IX works with institutions that receive federal financial assistance, like agencies and educational organizations. These institutions include 16,500 local school districts, 7,000 postsecondary institutions, as well as charter schools, for-profit schools, libraries, and museums. They also include occupational rehabilitation agencies and education agencies of the United States. So that means that everyone enrolled in an education-driven institution is protected by Title IX.

Sources: 1, 2, 3

Photo Credit: 1, 2



Hannah Andress

American '21

Editor-in-Chief of Her Campus American. Currently an undergraduate student at American University involved in the Global Scholars program studying International Studies and Arabic. Preferred gender pronouns are she/her/hers. Her interests include national security, women in politics, international human and civil rights, and creating an impact that is long-lasting and sustainable.
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