The New York Times
“First it was admissions to graduate school, and then sports and athletics, and then it became discrimination and pregnancy. If you were a high school girl, and you got pregnant, you were likely to be kicked out of school, and your boyfriend, who was captain of the football team, was likely to graduate and get college scholarships for football. Then it was issues of sexual harassment. They’re not resolved yet, but we’ve come a long way in terms of having ways to address them.” — Margaret Dunkle
On this, the 50th anniversary of Title IX, the landmark gender equality legislation, Margaret Dunkle remembers thinking that the hard work was behind them once the law had passed.
Ms. Dunkle, who played a key role in ensuring that Title 1X was an effective force for change in schools and colleges, said she “originally thought the evolution was going to be quicker and easier and less dramatic.
“It has not been quick, easy or undramatic, but there has been enormous progress,” said Ms. Dunkle, who served with both the Association of American Colleges’ Project on the Status and Education of Women and the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare in the 1970s.
Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 is a concise 37 words. Patterned after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, it affected, among other things, girls’ and women’s sports, college admissions, academic majors, vocational programs, teaching and coaching positions and even the handling of sexual assaults on campus. But nothing since its passage has been simple. From the beginning, legislators, policymakers and activists clashed as some tried to extend, and others to limit, the law’s reach and power.
The battle for, controversy around and the continuing drama and progress of the act will be featured in a New-York Historical Society exhibition, “Title IX: Activism On and Off the Field,” from May 13 through Sept. 4.
Documents, photographs and other memorabilia will be on view in the museum’s Joyce B. Cowin Women’s History Gallery, which regularly stages exhibitions like this. Offering one on the 50th anniversary of Title IX “was a no-brainer,” said Valerie Paley, the museum’s senior vice president and the founding director of its Center for Women’s History. But it was also challenging to encompass five decades of a controversial federal law, especially in a visually engaging way.
“There is just so much nuance here that we knew we had to convey as much of it as possible without diminishing the impact of the story by giving too much,” Ms. Paley said.
The show starts with “On the Hill and Bench,” referring to key legal and legislative battles running throughout Title IX, which are described in front of blown-up photos of the U.S. Capitol and the Supreme Court.
Among other items are documents relating to the court case Alexander v. Yale, decided in 1980, that for the first time used Title IX in charges of sexual harassment against an educational institution — in this case, Yale. Alongside are descriptions of how the law was interpreted and supported — or not — throughout different presidential administrations.
Two of the museum’s postdoctoral fellows, Anna Danziger Halperin and Allison Robinson, worked on the exhibition along with Laura Mogulescu, curator of the museum’s women’s history collection; they all conducted numerous interviews with people involved at different times and with varying facets of the Title IX story.
The exhibition is divided into four main areas affected by Title IX: Congress and the courts, college campuses, sports and the classroom.
“We decided in the process of creating this exhibit that we weren’t going to move through the story in a chronological way,” Ms. Danziger said. “Instead, we were going to think through different immersive spaces that we could create that help break down the story thematically.”
The exhibition demonstrates the increasing awareness and activism around sexual violence and harassment on campuses and the growing use of Title IX as a tool to fight it.
Andrea Pino-Silva, who has Title IX tattooed on her foot (a photo is in the show), filed a Title IX complaint against the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2013 for its handling of sexual assault on campus. She is also a co-founder of the national survivor advocacy organization End Rape on Campus and one of the main subjects in the 2015 documentary “The Hunting Ground,” which is about sexual assaults on college campuses.
“The core of my activism was to talk about education access in the context of sexual harassment, which really at the time was not a common conversation,” said Ms. Pino-Silva, who is now 30. “I think a lot of folks associated Title IX with sports access, as well as access to universities. Our argument was talking about how, if women were experiencing sexual harassment and assault, there could be no access to education.”
The arena of athletics is where Title IX’s impact is perhaps most publicly obvious, even though “that was not at the forefront in the minds of people who were lobbying for this,” Ms. Mogulescu said.
The exhibition highlights the battles fought by female college athletes for the same rights as men; one of those spotlighted is the Yale women’s crew team, protesting in the 1970s its lack of access to showers. Photos, T-shirts and other items from the time show the crew team’s “strip-in” in the office of the women’s athletic director. They had written “Title IX” on their bodies.
The enormous growth in the number of women in high school and college athletics — more than three million today, from 300,000 in 1972 — led to the increasing professionalization of, and interest in, women’s sports, and the objects in the exhibition demonstrate that depth and growth: Billie Jean King’s tennis racket, the 1984 Olympic gold medal winner Mary Lou Retton’s gymnastics slipper, Serena Williams’s tennis dress, jerseys from professional women’s basketball and soccer teams and a basketball Barbie doll.
“My entire professional career has benefited from Title IX,” said Shelia Burrell, a two-time Olympian in the heptathlon and the head cross-country and track and field coach at San Diego State University. But entering U.C.L.A. on an athletic scholarship in 1990, she knew nothing about the law. “I only knew about it once I graduated from college, made two Olympic teams and then tried to get a job,” she said. That’s when she saw how female coaches were hired on lower rungs than men and rarely promoted.
Nancy Lough, a professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, College of Education who teaches intercollegiate and professional sports management and has consulted on Title IX in several states, says discrimination against women is still very much alive, but the difference is how women react to it. She pointed to a recent Tik Tok video that went viral during last year’s N.C.A.A. women’s basketball tournament. The video focuses on the women’s weight “room” — one small stack of hand weights — compared with the men’s vast room with a huge variety of equipment. The N.C.A.A. later apologized for the inequities.
“Students today are not willing to put up with what my generation put up with,” said Ms. Lough, who was also a student athlete and coach. “We were the apologetic generation; we were just like, ‘Oh, thank you for anything that you will get us’; and we were just so grateful because we actually got to play sports. These kids today are absolutely not in that place.”
Ms. Dunkle, Ms. Pino-Silva, Ms. Burrell and Ms. Lough were all sources for the museum’s exhibition. Ms. Dunkle, who wrote a 1974 report documenting discrimination against female athletes that became the basis for Title IX’s regulations on athletics, donated some 20 items, including a photo of herself lighting a candle on a cake during Title IX’s third anniversary celebration, on Capitol Hill in 1975.
“The exhibition is a celebration of how we’ve come so far in terms of equal opportunities for female students and in education,” she said in a recent interview. “And it’s also a time to point a laser at the remaining issues because issues that we did not even contemplate back in the early 1970s have now taken center stage.”