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Transcending Sports
by Chuck Gordon

Dr. Nancy Randall admits that she wasn’t much of an athlete as a child, but she enjoyed sports, and she was observant. In physical education class at her Ohio high school in the late 1960s, she quickly picked up on the disparity between the treatment of men and women.

Nancy Randall posing

“I understood as a girl what unequal educational opportunities meant,” she says. “In P.E., girls didn’t play full-court basketball. I remember thinking, I don’t understand. We were allowed to play half-court basketball, but the boys could play full-court. I just didn’t understand that.”

That treatment extended to the classroom, where, despite posting excellent math scores, Randall felt compelled to avoid STEM fields. Girls were often nudged toward “softer” fields (Randall would ultimately become a sociologist), and she was not encouraged to put her math skills to use at the next level.

“I never considered going to engineering school,” she says. “I’m not even sure I would have been accepted. Would Ohio State have taken me as an engineering student in 1971, which is when I graduated from high school, before Title IX was even passed? I think not.”

The world has certainly opened up for women in the intervening five decades. Engineering remains a male-dominated profession, but women are welcomed into engineering schools in much greater numbers these days. The wink-wink world of sexual harassment – in all its lecherous forms – has slowly been eroded, though not eradicated, over the years. The worlds of business and politics have seen more and more women rise to the top.

Colleges and universities have experienced perhaps the most drastic change, with the ratio of male students to female students having completely reversed at most schools. At Wingate, women consistently make up about 60 percent of the undergraduate student body today, compared with less than 40 percent in the early ’70s. The result has been many more women in the workforce, doing jobs they would not have been considered for a few decades ago.

Randall, an administrator and sociology professor who has served as Wingate University’s Title IX coordinator for the past two years, lauds the landmark legislation for creating a much more level playing field in many areas of life.

“Title IX has been a giant success,” she says.

Covering sexual harassment

The 37 words that established Title IX mention nothing about athletics. Still, that is perhaps the most visible arena the legislation has affected. When Title IX was passed, in 1972, female Wingate Junior College students looking to compete on an intercollegiate team could try out for basketball. That was it. Fifty years later, Wingate University offers 14 intercollegiate sports for women – three more than for men. That’s undoubtedly progress.

But there are other, less noticeable, areas that Title IX affects. Colleges and universities that receive federal funding cannot discriminate on the basis of sex – and that goes for students and employees alike. For one thing, female professors should make salaries similar to those of their male peers. Students cannot be excluded from admission based on their gender, and opportunities in most fields of study must be open to students of both sexes. The legislation, signed into law on June 23, 1972, by President Richard Nixon, also deals with financial assistance, LGBTQIA+ issues, even pregnancy.

One significant area covered by Title IX is sexual harassment. That’s where Randall, wearing her Title IX coordinator hat, steps in.

“I think it was in the ’90s that people started thinking that sexual harassment was a form of sex discrimination,” Randall says. “If you’re being sexually harassed in your college experience by your professor, by your work-study supervisor, or potentially by other students, if you’ve been raped, stalked, fondled, that could influence your ability to do your schooling.”

Randall’s job is to follow up on any report of sexual harassment received by the University to see if it falls under Title IX. If it does, she enacts a process for handling it.

“It could be things that people said to you,” Randall says. “It could be cat-calling that makes people uncomfortable, or unwanted sexual come-ons or comments. It doesn’t have to be a physically violent act, although I do consider that words could be used as a violent act. It includes pictures.  It includes social media.”

Running hand-in-hand with Title IX is the Clery Act, a federal law that requires all colleges and universities to report certain information regarding campus safety – such as crime data – to the federal government, to provide transparency. It also requires universities to provide support to victims of violence.

It’s a difficult job, but one that Randall understands is of the utmost importance.

“You have to handle each case fairly and with great care,” she says. “And you have to make sure that the person who reports it knows that you’re taking it seriously and that you’re taking action to look into it and talk to the individuals involved and, if there’s something that’s going on, that we act on that.

“I want to emphasize that we want to have a culture of communication, not a culture of silence. That’s really important. Not communication like ratting or narcing, but a culture of communication, a culture of honesty. And we also want to have a culture of respect and responsibility and accountability.”

Title IX coordinators have to make sure that they stay on top of changes to interpretations of the law. Randall took over the role just as more-restrictive Trump-era interpretations were being enacted. Nevertheless, sexual misconduct that doesn’t currently fall under Title IX is still addressed by the University through the Office of Community Standards and the student code of conduct. 

Even without the Clery Act and Title IX forcing its hand, Randall says, Wingate would do the right thing by victims of sexual assault and harassment. “You better believe it,” she says. “I have long believed that Wingate has worked to prevent sexual violence and harassment, responded with compassion when it occurred, and acted fairly toward all the people involved. I absolutely believe that we’re doing our best now. The University stands 100 percent behind doing the right thing for students, faculty and staff, not letting it drop.”