Fifty years ago today, the competitive landscape changed for women in the United States.
After President Richard Nixon signed into law the Education Amendments Act of 1972, doors slowly started opening for women across the country, and it’s all because of 37 words. Title IX of the act states: “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.”
Big changes might not have happened immediately, but there couldn’t be a much starker difference between the educational environment for women at Wingate in 2022 and the one that existed in 1972. In the early ’70s, roughly 63 percent of Wingate students were male. Today, about 60 percent are female.
Other factors have certainly played a role in that reversal, but Title IX is a big one.
“I think that Title IX has been responsible in large measure for women taking greater strides in following their passions, majoring in things they want to major in, having some real leadership experiences if they want them, and going on and pursuing careers,” says Dr. Nancy Randall, the University’s vice president for institutional integrity and Title IX coordinator. “We don’t even have an Equal Rights Amendment. Title IX did a lot of heavy lifting.”
Title IX deals with sexual harassment, equal opportunities in educational courses (such as science and math), even opportunities affected by pregancy. For people working in academia, it has mandated equal pay for equal work and opened up paths to advancement that were closed off to women for decades. It also deals with nonphysical acts such as bullying and retaliation.
In essence, Title IX has cleared the way for women to, for the most part, study what they want and become a thriving part of the workforce.
“I just think it’s opened the door,” Randall says. “It’s been a part of what we used to call ‘women’s liberation.’ It’s good to see some of the glass ceilings break because we have allowed women to use all parts of their brain. I think we have enriched organizations because of that.”
Even though none of the 37 words in the legislation mentions athletics, that area is the one that has perhaps changed the most as a result of the amendment. In 1972, 30,000 women participated in NCAA sports, compared with 170,000 men. In 2021, the numbers were 218,000 and 275,000, respectively.
When former Director of Athletics Steve Poston started his career at Wingate, in 1972, two months after the passage of Title IX, the College offered one women’s sport: basketball, which Poston was drafted in to coach (he was brought to the school primarily to coach baseball).
When he retired at the end of 2021, Wingate offered 13 women’s sports (compared to 11 for men), including field hockey, which begins play this fall.
“I think it’s the most significant legislation ever written for college sports,” Poston says. “I really do.”
The opportunities keep coming, too. In fall of 2023, Wingate will offer acrobatics and tumbling as an NCAA women’s sport.
Poston’s successor at Wingate, Kelley Kish, has seen positive consequences of Title IX firsthand, though she acknowledges that there is still room for improvement (for example, women in the workforce make about 84 cents for every dollar men make). Before Queens University’s departure from the conference this summer, half of the athletic directors in the South Atlantic Conference were women.
“We know that sports cultivate higher levels of confidence, self-esteem, positive body image and assertiveness,” Kish says. “As I look around the table at our SAC Athletic Council meetings and see that nearly 50% of our ADs are women, I realize that we are part of the pipeline to grow future women leaders and are living examples for our campuses of progress for equity, access and fairness thanks to Title IX, with more work left to do.”
To learn more about Title IX, listen to the latest edition of the University’s Wilson and Main podcast.
June 23, 2022