Title IX Turns 40, But Has The Field Leveled?

Title IX was the landmark legislation that required most educational institutions to offer equal opportunities for girls and boys. It changed history and opened up the floodgates to basketball courts, soccer fields and classrooms to women all over the country. Host Michel Martin speaks with three experts about what more needs to be done.

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

Coming up, TELL ME MORE is launching a new summer series called Make Me Laugh. We'll feature a number of the country's popular comedians. First up is Thomas Miles, better known as Nephew Tommy. He is a regular on the "Steve Harvey Morning Show," where his prank phone calls are a must listen. We'll hear from him in a few minutes.

But first, we want to talk about Title IX. That landmark civil rights law turns 40 this week. The language was simple and short, just 37 words. No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation and be denied the benefits of or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.

But those 37 words changed history and opened the gates to basketball courts, soccer fields and classrooms to women all over the country. Since Title IX's passage, women's participation in college sports has increased more than six-fold and there are actually more women than men in college nationwide.

But women are still less likely to enter certain fields, especially fields like technology and engineering. There are still wide racial gaps in college access and completion, and there are those who blame Title IX for what they see as a growing achievement gap between boys and girls in schools.

We wanted to talk about all of that, so we've called upon a group of people who have both lived through and thought a lot about Title IX. Sharon Beverly is the director of athletics and physical education at Vassar College in Upstate New York. She's a former college and professional basketball player. She also coached women's college teams for nearly 20 years before coming to Vassar.

Debra DeMeis is the dean of students at Wellesley College in Massachusetts. She's written a forthcoming piece for The Daily Beast about Title IX's impact on athletics and education. Also with us, Richard Lapchick. He is the director of the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports at the University of Central Florida. He also authors an annual racial and gender report card, which you may have heard about. It tracks issues like graduation rates and hiring practices. Welcome to you all. Thank you all so much for joining us.

SHARON BEVERLY: Thank you.

DEBRA DEMEIS: Thank you for having us.

RICHARD LAPCHICK: Thank you.

MARTIN: Sharon Beverly, you know I have to call you Coach Beverly, right? So, I'll start with you. You started college in 1972, the year Title IX was passed, and you were a basketball player in college. I just wanted to ask, what do you remember of those days? Did you notice differences between how you, as a girl, were treated in sports and how the boys were treated?

BEVERLY: Oh, yes. There were definite differences. You know, you saw the guys getting on the chartered buses and they had the commercial uniforms and brand new sneakers. And for us, we were in uniforms that our moms sewed and, you know, we were traveling by van. So there definite differences that you could see between the support for the two programs.

MARTIN: When did you start to see differences? As I mentioned, you played for a professional women's basketball team, the New Jersey Gems, even before the WNBA existed, which is also the longest running women's professional sports league, you know, in this country at this point and then you coached. When did you start to see the effect of Title IX taking effect?

BEVERLY: I think we probably started to see some changes within the first five years, where athletics directors were extending additional benefits to women. You saw our coaches starting to be paid, so now we were getting better coaching. So, those were sort of the initial things that we saw. Departments were being combined. So up until then, we had a separate men's program and a separate women's program. And then, all of a sudden, we had one program. So, I think those were the things that we saw, initially.

MARTIN: Dean DeMeis, you have a piece coming out this weekend and I understand that you think it impacted more than just athletics. Could you talk a little bit more about that?

DEMEIS: I think the power from Title IX really comes from its broad scope. When most people think about Title IX, the first thing that comes to mind is athletics. But there are actually 10 areas that Title IX addressed, and it goes all the way from employment opportunities, promotion opportunities within education to areas in terms of access, financial aid, to specific areas like the focusing on access to math and science. So Title IX has incredibly broadened its scope and that is really where its power comes from.

MARTIN: Now, why is that exactly, though? Is it that people within these departments and areas kind of made explicit demands for resources based on Title IX? Because we don't often hear a lot about that. We hear a lot about sports, but we don't often hear about, you know, these other areas. So can you talk a little bit about how you think it's actually worked?

DEMEIS: One of the things - if you trace a little bit of the history of bill, what you'll see is that the original bill has been altered in a variety of ways and changing as, I think, times and issues have made us aware of places that women or girls have not had access in education. So, I think the bill has allowed us to be incredibly responsive to needs as we've started to recognize them.

MARTIN: And, of course, Professor Lapchick, one ongoing - one fear back then when Title IX first came in and you still hear this today is that Title IX will divert resources to women's sports and disadvantage men who actually - well, I don't want to go into the sort of the broader - care more about sports. But that, you know, male sports will suffer and that men and boys on campuses will suffer as a result. And I just wanted to ask. You know, you are one of the number of people. Do you think that that's true?

LAPCHICK: Well, the reality is, today, there are more men playing college sport than ever before. And obviously, there's a huge explosion of the number of women playing college sport. I think one of the reasons that they had to eliminate some men's teams in the early days of implementation or out of the mid-days of implementation is that male athletic directors around the country didn't really move fast enough to implement Title IX.

Passed in 1972, in the late 1980s, women were starting to sue universities for their right to participate. And when those lawsuits were won, then athletic departments and universities saw this was going to cost them money and there was the rush to implement the various prongs of Title IX, especially in the 1990s. And the result was that some men's teams were cut. But the reality again today is that there are more men playing college sport than at any time in history.

MARTIN: And how is that possible? Are they playing more types of sports or they're - how is it that that's - how is that possible?

LAPCHICK: Well, over the course of the 40 years of Title IX, there have been new sports added at the college level and a lot of them have been men's sports, as well as women's sports. And the reality also is that there just haven't been that many men's sports cut over the years. It's an exaggeration used by particularly men's groups who are trying to preserve their particular sport that they're threatened because of Title IX.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, you're listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. We're acknowledging the 40th anniversary of Title IX. That's historic legislation that prohibited educational programs, including athletics, from discriminating on the basis of sex.

I'm joined by Debra DeMeis, dean of students at Wellesley College, Richard Lapchick, director of the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at the University of Central Florida, and Sharon Beverly, director of athletics at Vassar College and a former college and professional player and coach.

And while we're honoring this, you know, there's still the question of full equality. You know, there was this recent New York Times article that reported that African-American women are underrepresented in all but two sports, basketball and track and field. And, Coach Beverly, you're actually one of the few African-American athletic directors in the country. I'd like to ask you why you think this disparity still exists.

BEVERLY: Well, I think socioeconomic situations have something to do with that. You know, we're seeing that we have a lower number of minority females in sports that require money. You see low numbers of tennis. You see low numbers in swimming. Those sports that require money in order to really hone your skills, so to speak, we're still dragging behind in benefiting from scholarship dollars in those sports.

MARTIN: Professor Lapchick, you know, as we mentioned, you issue a racial and gender report card, which tracks a number of issues in sports, like hiring practices and so forth. And I think, you know, regular listeners to NPR will certainly have heard you talk about this on this and other programs. Could you talk a little bit about one of the - some of the things that have changed since you started issuing your report back in the '80s, some things that stand out to you?

LAPCHICK: Well, some of the things that have changed in terms of what we cover in the racial gender report card, which is the four major men's sports, the WNBA and college sports, is that at the men's level in pro leagues and on individual teams, the percentage of women who are in front office positions has increased dramatically. It's still nowhere near where we think it should be.

All the men's leagues and the WNBA now receive an A grade for the issue of racial hiring practices. But in terms of hiring practices for women, it's still hovering in the C's in most of the men's leagues. It's a C-plus in college. It's an A-plus in the WNBA, and it's an A in the NBA. The NBA and WNBA have been the industry leaders for a long time.

But at the college level, it's particularly distressing when you look across the three divisions. On men's teams - sorry - on women's teams, 57 percent of the women's teams in America today, in 2012, 40 years after Title IX, are coached by men. It's something that doesn't even make any sense to me that that's a possibility, but it's a real fact that we're still grappling with.

MARTIN: Why do you think that is, though? I know you said that it doesn't really make sense to you, but why do you think that is? I understand that the percentage of female head coaches has actually dropped. I mean, that could be, in part because of what you said, that there are more men's teams overall so that the percentage of females - I don't know. I mean, but why do you think that is? Any thoughts?

LAPCHICK: Well, I think that the opportunities for women have been so slow to be implemented at the hiring level, and it's a reflection of what's going on in college sport, in general. I mean, you highlighted in the beginning that Sharon is one of the few African-American ADs in the country. The reality is that across the three divisions at the AD position, 93 percent in division one are white. Ninety-two percent in division two are white. Ninety-six percent in division three are white and women hold eight percent of the division one AAD jobs, 13 percent in division two and 27 percent in division three. It gets a little better as we go down from one, two to three, but it's still not really good.

MARTIN: Dean DeMeis, would you reflect a little bit more on the other areas in education where Title IX doesn't seem to have leveled the playing field very much at all?

DEMEIS: I think what I'd reflect on is, given Richard's comments about what's happening in the athletic world, that kind of pattern is also evident in the rest of higher education. If you look at employment for professors, for women, you'll find that the greatest percentage of women professors are at the assistant level. The number of women who are full professors still remain a much smaller percentage. So as you go from the lower levels to the higher levels, the percentages change.

You'll see different percentages of women being represented at the PhD level, given the field. And we know in the stem areas, women still are not acquiring PhDs at the rate at which men are acquiring those higher level degrees. So I think the situation that was described in athletics is exemplified across all of higher education.

MARTIN: Can I just ask you, though, to reflect? Dean, I'd actually like each of you to reflect on the ongoing question of choice, of preference, of kind of where people are guided by - and just in, you know, 2,000 years of social history, you know, the way girls and boys are socialized. And there are those who continue to argue. I'm thinking about the conservative icon, Phyllis Schlafly, for example, who has just - who talks about this a lot, that just perhaps there are just different interests and that there are those who continue to feel that Title IX is actually trying to fight against what people's natural - if I can use that term - interests are and that that's why they think it's unfair to boys. Dean, do you want to address that?

DEMEIS: I think one of the - as I said, one of the parts of the power of Title IX is its broad scope and it really - it applies not just to higher education, though all three of us represent higher education. But it really applies to K through 12 schools as much as it applies to higher education. And we know that if you start building the pipeline early for girls in elementary school, that you'll start to see rising interest. We know that as they move through the pipeline, as we look at the way that people interact with them, that's when we begin to see the drop off.

So, initially, when these children enter elementary school, you won't see a difference between girls' and boys' interests. It really is, I think, part of a gender stereotype. I think it still reflects some strong biases that we have in our culture and even in higher education about who belongs where.

MARTIN: Professor Lapchick, what do you think?

LAPCHICK: I agree. And I think that, you know, one of the parallels that I make for Title IX is affirmative action. If there was no Title IX, we wouldn't see this many women competing in sports. We wouldn't have seen the changes that have taken place, even with not great hiring practices. They're better than they were.

Male athletic directors weren't going to give up that power if there wasn't a law forcing them to do that, if there wasn't pressure and lawsuits that were brought on. I think that is what ultimately resulted in the change - the big changes that have taken place. And I think we have to be careful in the future that we don't kind of rest our guard because there's still a whole lot of male athletic directors who aren't going to see that power that they have as the most powerful person in athletics on the college campus voluntarily.

They're going to need a push. And I personally have called for something that I call the Billie Jean King rule that for every significant position in an athletic department that men and women and people of color have to be in the selection process, not only on the teams that are selecting the candidates, but also in the pool of who they're looking at to hire.

MARTIN: Coach Beverly, what do you think? And, you know, I'm also thinking about the fact that despite all of this advancement of women in sports, that women's sports - some women's sports teams are still struggling in contrast to men's, that there's this constant - just there is still a discussion about whether women's sports are as exciting as male, you know, men's sports, except in areas like tennis, for example, or figure skating or something of that - or individual sports. What do you think?

BEVERLY: Well, I think that we can definitely say they are as exciting. Just watch a game on a weekend on television and you see thousands of women and men and children and families supporting their teams of choice. (Unintelligible) women - I don't think - lack for any support. So I think definitely we've proven that it is as entertaining and is as important.

In terms of whether or not there's interest out there, we see it in the numbers of increase in participation. It's unbelievable how it has exploded through the past 40 years. You can't even compare the numbers of women that are participating now and were participating back in the early '70s. So we've shown that there was definitely a need and desire. That old, if they build it, you know, they will come definitely was the fact.

I think that the biggest concern, though, as we move forward is the lack of leadership opportunities for women where we are seeing only 20 percent of the ADs are women. And until we're in power and able to expand those opportunities for leadership, that's still going to be the area where we're lacking.

MARTIN: Dean, I'm going to give you the final word on this, too. Over the next 40 years, what do you think - what conversation do you think we should be having over the next 40 years about Title IX?

DEMEIS: One of the things I think that needs to happen is people need to realize the scope of Title IX, that it applies to how people select careers, that it applies to who gets to go to what schools, that it applies to athletics, that it applies to women who are often shut out of the process of higher education, either by pregnancy. I think we need to really educate people about the scope of it and how to use the power of Title IX.

MARTIN: Debra DeMeis is the dean of students at Wellesley College in Massachusetts. She wrote a forthcoming piece for this week's Newsweek Daily Beast about Title IX's effect outside the world of athletics. She was giving us a little preview there. Also with us, Richard Lapchick. He is the director of the Sports Business Management Program at the University of Central Florida. And Sharon Beverly is the athletics director at Vassar College in Upstate New York. She's a former college and professional basketball player and coached women's teams for 20 years before coming to Vassar. I thank you all so much for speaking with us.

DEMEIS: Thank you.

BEVERLY: Thank you.

LAPCHICK: Thank you.

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