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Title IX: Leveling The Playing Field For Men And Women

As a female Japanese American student in the 1940s, Patsy Takemoto Mink faced discrimination almost every day.

Her campaign for student body president at her Maui high school was almost derailed when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, stirring up intense anti-Japanese sentiments among her fellow students. Unperturbed, Mink united enough student coalitions to give her enough votes and won the presidency anyway, laying the groundwork for a career spent overcoming obstacles and unifying divided points of view.

While studying at the University of Nebraska, she rallied students, parents, staff, and alumni and led the charge to overturn Nebraska’s racially segregated student housing policy. After being denied entry to 22 medical schools because of her gender, she went to law school in Chicago and subsequently became Hawaii’s first Japanese American female lawyer in 1952, and then Congress’ first female minority member in 1965.

While in Congress, she authored the Early Childhood Education Act and the Women’s Educational Equity Act before setting her sights on passing a brief 37-word proposal aimed at ensuring no student would ever have to face discrimination because of her – or his – gender again.

“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 education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”

Now formally known as the Patsy T. Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act, in honor of its author and co-sponsor – or more commonly known by its original name, the Title IX Amendment of the Higher Education Act, or simply Title IX – the law made it illegal for any school receiving Federal money to discriminate against students because of gender.

Title IX was passed into law in 1972, the same year the flagship university in Mink’s own home state spent $1 million on athletics and set aside just $5000 of that for women’s club sports. While its impact was not immediate – schools were given a seven-year window to come into compliance – there is no doubt that over the last 36 years it has been impressive.

Prior to 1972, women received 43 percent of all bachelor’s degrees, nine percent of all medical degrees, seven percent of all law degrees, and 14 percent of all doctoral degrees. By the turn of the millennium however, women were receiving 57 percent of all bachelor’s degrees, 41 percent of medical degrees, 44 percent of law degrees, and 46 percent of doctoral degrees.

The effect is being felt in the administrative side of American universities as well. LSU currently has a female provost – Astrid Merget – and two female vice provosts – Katrice Albert and Stacia Haynie. Three women in hierarchal positions; an idea almost unthinkable prior to 1972.

“It would probably have been very rare that a woman would have even been a dean other than in traditional areas like education, library and information science, and social work,” said Albert, vice provost for equity and diversity at LSU. “Outside of those areas you would be very unlikely to have a woman rise to the area of upper administration.”

Nowhere does Title IX get more publicity than in sports though, where it is lauded for the impact it has had on women’s athletics. For most people, the only female athletes they could name who competed prior to 1980 would be Babe Didrikson Zaharias and Billie Jean King – the latter of whom defeated former Wimbledon champion Bobby Riggs one year after Title IX was passed. Nowadays, the likes of Annika Sorenstam, Mia Hamm, and Maria Sharapova are household names and are gracing the covers of magazines like Sports Illustrated with increasing regularity.

LSU has produced more than its share of female superstar athletes, too, with Seimone Augustus, Sylvia Fowles, April Burkholder, and Kristin Schmidt known nationally for their athletic exploits. Twenty-four of LSU’s 44 national team championships have been won by the Lady Tiger track and field team alone, and LSU is the fourth-most successful university nationwide in terms of women’s NCAA team championships. In addition, the gymnastics team has produced two individual NCAA national champions, the softball team has advanced to the Women’s College World Series twice since 2001, and the women’s basketball team is looking for a fourth straight trip to the Final Four in 2008.

“Women’s basketball was the one who ran with it and said, ‘No, we want to be part of the NCAA, we want to be on par with the men,’” said Yvette Girouard, head coach of the defending SEC Tournament champion softball team. “I think that’s why they got the jump on the rest of the women’s sports and why it’s the premier female-supported sport when it comes to the NCAA.”

Girouard began her coaching career at Lafayette High School in Lafayette, Louisiana, at a time when her coaching duties included cutting the grass, weeding, and dragging the infield – things her male counterparts had someone do for them.

“The guy at the school board said he just wanted to see if I was willing to work before he would help me,” she said.

In 2007, exactly 30 years after she coached her first game at Lafayette High, LSU defeated No.1 Tennessee at Tiger Park in front of a crowd of 2,326. The game was shown live to a national audience of millions on ESPN, and to make it even sweeter for Girouard, she was able to focus on nothing but coaching. She has not had to drag her own infield in years.

But despite the obvious advances made, total equality still has not been reached. The American Council on Education’s 2000 study found that just 19 percent of college presidents were women, with the largest number of those – 20 percent – heading two-year institutions. But progress is being made steadily – only 9.5 percent of universities had female presidents in 1986 – proving the Lau Tzu proverb “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” still holds true.

In terms of equality, women have not reached the proverbial end of the journey yet, but the march continues, knowing each step forward brings them closer.

“I never downplay success, no matter how long it takes,” Albert said. “I’m always delighted by success in any regard to diversity and equality.

“But there’s still so much more that needs to be done.”

Damian Foley | LSU Office of Public Affairs
Spring 2008

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