BY EMILY BERNSTEIN ’18
The 1972 Act that sought to end sex-based discrimination in schools receiving federal funding known as Title IX is making headlines this month as Education Secretary Betsy DeVos announced that the U.S. Department of Education would be rescinding the non-binding Title IX guidelines around campus sexual assault put in place under the Obama administration.
Mount Holyoke News — then titled Choragos — first made mention of Title IX in its March 20, 1975 issue, as members of the College community debated whether or not Mount Holyoke should offer athletic scholarships to prospective students. In an article from the Feb. 26, 1976 issue titled “That Sports Law,” the paper reported that athletic scholarship offers from co-ed institutions might draw prospective students away from Mount Holyoke, which held an intercollegiate athletics budget of just $8,000.
The meaning of Title IX began to expand beyond“That Sports Law” by the 1990s. In 1992, an article covering Mariah Burton Nelson’s lecture on women in sports reached beyond the limits of funding and facilities. Nelson spoke about the weight loss pressure and sexual harassment that many female athletes faced that their male counterparts did not — issues that women faced, and do face, in other fields as well.
In her March 2005 article, “The problem with Title IX,” Meg Massey ’08 covered the recommendations of a 2003 report from the U.S. Department of Education commission charged with reevaluating Title IX as it applied to athletics. Massey wrote, “These recommendations say that changes [...] must be made, including ‘additional ways of demonstrating equity’ and establishing a ‘reasonable variance’ for current equality standards. The problem is that the language used in these reforms is so open-ended.”
Title IX has always been, at face value, intended to prevent sex-based discrimination at institutions receiving federal funding. But in practice, this often led to a conversation about athletics, and left out much of the sex-based discrimination that individuals face in other aspects of their lives. With a new decade came a lot of new conversations about what exactly constitutes sex-based discrimination.
In October 2013, Geena Molinaro ’16 covered the federal Title IX complaint against UNC Chapel Hill brought by five female former students in January 2013. The students had experienced sexual assault on campus followed by dismissal on the university’s part, and their complaint sparked a nationwide conversation about sexual assault on campus. This conversation hit close to home here in the Pioneer Valley, where UMass, Amherst had recently held the “Breaking Barriers: Connecting Victims with Authorities” panel event.
Sexual assault and harassment remain key Title IX issues, particularly with Secretary Devos’ recent announcements. Acting President Sonya Stephens issued a statement this week saying “Sexual violence disproportionately affects women and gender minorities, and our policies offer protections, rights and processes by which we stand. At this time, then, our policy remains in effect and is unchanged by the new guidance.”
But sexual violence policy is not the only question facing Mount Holyoke around Title IX. Since Admissions established a new trans policy in 2014, Mount Holyoke has entered new territory regarding Title IX compliance and trans athletes at a school where no men’s teams exist.
Emet Marwell ’18 said, “In terms of gender and athletics .... you have to offer the same thing [to men’s and women’s teams], so that’s tricky at Mount Holyoke, because to maintain our status as a women’s college and funding, there’s that issue of we need to be a women’s college.”
While there are other governing bodies at play, Title IX will inevitably become a factor as the school tries to serve its trans students.
In the 45 years since Title IX was enacted, the conversation around it has changed, but never ceased. Mount Holyoke News continues to follow the landmark legislation and its ever-changing implications for the Mount Holyoke community and beyond.
Additional reporting by Lindsey McGinnis '18