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Society of Women Engineers

Title IX at 45

The 45th anniversary of Title IX, the groundbreaking antidiscrimination law ensuring protection against sex discrimination in education, is this June.

Published On: March 2017

This article by Sandra Guy, SWE Contributor, was first published in the Special Issue of SWE Magazine.

Rising above partisanship and gender politics, Title IX has historically garnered support from both Democrats and Republicans. This, according to Lisa Maatz, vice president of government relations and advocacy for the American Association of University Women (AAUW), is because the law guarantees equal rights to an education for girls and boys, and women and men. Title IX’s mandate extends far beyond its widely known role in expanding women’s access to athletics programs.

 “Title IX is hugely popular, and it’s a bipartisan issue. We don’t expect that to change,” Maatz said.

Echoing this sentiment, Sue Klein, Ed.D., education equity director for the Feminist Majority Foundation and a 34-year veteran of gender-equity research at the U.S. Department of Education, notes that many state and local laws also guarantee equal education rights to girls and boys and to women and men, and that federal agencies such as NASA, the National Science Foundation, and the Department of Justice support gender-rights education programs and activities along with the Education Department.

Dr. Klein and the Feminist Majority Foundation urge Title IX supporters to show their commitment to ending sex discrimination in their own communities by building on the Obama administration’s good work, including providing guidance, tools, and public enforcement decisions that have fortified Title IX. In view of all the unknowns posed by a new administration in Washington, advocates are also preparing to celebrate the groundbreaking antidiscrimination law’s 45th anniversary in June, making Dr. Klein’s recommendation all the more timely.

At the Core of Compliance: Title IX Coordinators

The people responsible for making sure Title IX works in schools, colleges, and universities across the country are called coordinators. At least one Title IX coordinator is required to work in every institution nationwide that receives federal funds for education programs or activities, and information about how to contact them should be posted on each school’s website.

Indeed, the Obama administration’s Department of Education encouraged greater attention to the important roles of required Title IX coordinators by providing the Title IX Resource Guide (http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/docs/dcl-title-ix-coordinators-guide-201504.pdf) and the names, emails, and other ways to contact Title IX coordinators in 16,000 school districts and 7,000 colleges and universities, Dr. Klein said.

These school district Title IX coordinators are also encouraged to train and work with counterparts in all their public schools, to establish teams of coordinators with expertise in many areas of Title IX responsibility, such as ending sex discrimination and gender stereotyping in academics, athletics, employment, disciplinary practices, and sexual harassment and assault.

For example, Stop Sexual Assault in Schools (http://stopsexualassaultinschools.org/) has released its action plan on video, “Sexual Harassment: Not in Our School,” which showcases a student gender equity group learning from legal and education experts, student survivors, Title IX coordinators, and victim assistance providers about practical ways to ensure that their schools provide safe and equal learning opportunities.

That’s important because of intensified efforts by students, elected officials, and the Obama administration to deal with issues such as sexual violence, sexual harassment, LGBTQ discrimination, and equal access for women and girls to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) programs, and to college lab space, research assistants, and other support proportionate to their male colleagues.

Lisa Maatz, left, and Lilly Ledbetter outside the White House on the 2015 anniversary of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. Photo by: AAUW

The result? The workload at the Title IX enforcement office exploded. Yet, at the same time, a Republican-led Congress constrained the budget of the Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education, which enforces the Title IX law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex.

The Office for Civil Rights was inundated with more than 16,000 civil rights complaints in 2016, more than twice the 6,364 filed in fiscal year 2009 — yet the staff is at 1980s levels, according to the latest Office for Civil Rights’ yearly report.

Of those cases, the Office resolved 1,346 Title IX complaints that ranged from schools’ handling of athletics to sexual harassment and more. That’s almost two cases every hour for the entire year.

The increase in Title IX complaints at the Office for Civil Rights is a strong indication that Title IX coordinators at schools, colleges, and universities across the country are dealing with additional cases as well.

Yet there’s a rub. No requirement exists that the federal government pay for Title IX coordinators. So even when the coordinators are doing the work and states are complying with the law, no specific federal funding is set aside for it.

That’s in spite of Title IX coordinators’ mandate to perform various levels of complex tasks:

  • Monitoring the gender ratio in STEM courses
  • Working to monitor and end sexual harassment and violence
  • Supporting pregnant and parenting students
  • Overseeing the prompt investigation of complaints alleging sexual harassment
  • Reviewing findings as to whether sexual harassment occurred
  • Keeping apprised of proposed remedies to address sexual harassment, eliminate any hostile environment, and prevent its recurrence; and
  • Serving as a consultant to any disciplinary hearing panel where sexual harassment has been determined to have occurred to ensure compliance with Title IX
  • Reviewing 13 areas of an athletics program when assessing Title IX compliance
  • Investigating sex discrimination complaints that fall outside of sexual harassment and sexual assault, such as employment and sex segregation
  • Training others, such as teachers, parents, and campus law enforcement officers, on the many aspects of Title IX

Training is Essential

Besides fully staffing the Title IX coordinators’ posts, the coordinators themselves need to be properly trained and valued as gender equity leaders to fully realize the law’s intent, Title IX advocates say.

To that end, the AAUW has launched a campaign to recruit volunteers to distribute the Education Department’s Title IX Resource Guide and other materials to Title IX coordinators so they can better understand and perform their jobs, ensuring that learning environments are free from sex discrimination.

“We worked with the U.S. Department of Education to come out with the first tool kit for Title IX coordinators,” Maatz said. “You’d be surprised how many schools don’t have a Title IX coordinator or people who are Title IX coordinators for their school, college, or university, but have no clue.”

Sue Klein, left, being interviewed by local media at a recent “Save Our Public Schools” rally in Washington, D.C. Photo by: Sue Klein

Besides the Education Department’s resource guide, where 7, 000 higher education institutions display contact information on their Title IX coordinators (see earlier link), the AAUW has posted on its website an interactive map (http://www.aauw.org/resource/find-your-title-ix-coordinator/) that lets the public search by address and ZIP code the K-12 schools and institutions that should have a Title IX coordinator, complete with maps and directions. The map is one of the 10 most-clicked items on the AAUW website. A map identifying higher education Title IX coordinator sites is expected to be posted early in 2017, Maatz said.

The Feminist Majority Foundation’s efforts aim to elevate the status of Title IX coordinators. “Instead of being seen only as a federal requirement whose job is reactive and compliance-driven, Title IX coordinators should be seen as leaders and valuable resources in implementing and sustaining Title IX in every educational institution or entity receiving federal assistance for education,” according to the Feminist Majority’s report, “Reinvigorating the Role of the Title IX Coordinator: A Requirement and Resource,” published in September 2016.

The consequences of having no coordinator or an improperly trained one can be serious and devastating. One example is a lack of reported incidents of sexual assault on campuses, Maatz said.

“Ninety-one percent of college campuses had zero disclosed incidents of rape in 2014. That says there is a problem with the data,” Maatz said. “If a school reports zero, where other evidence shows one in four to one in five women gets raped on campus, either students don’t feel comfortable reporting, don’t know where to report, or there’s some other issue that needs to be addressed. We need to see more accurate data. That will be a sign to us that schools are finally paying attention.” Similarly, 67 percent of K-12 schools had zero incidents of reported cases of sexual harassment.

“It defies reality and students’ reports of what is happening,” Maatz said. “Do students understand they can report it? Is there a welcoming and affirming place for them to report it — an office that takes action?”

A strong Title IX system takes away the stigma of reporting harassment or discrimination by affirming a victim student’s rights, such as sending the student to a counselor, advising him or her of their legal rights, and taking up the issue with integrity, Maatz said.

“The students will probably tell others that the interaction was a positive one — and that will spread,” she said. “But if the student is not believed or shut down, the student will share that, too.”

The disturbing data problem presents an opportunity, however, especially under a potentially unsupportive Trump administration.

“AAUW has 1,000 branches nationwide with over 170,000 members and supporters. Our members have gotten excited about data collection, especially with the change in administrations, because it will become even more important,” Maatz said. “It’s important we have long-term civil servants at the Office for Civil Rights, Title IX coordinators in our schools, as well as community activists who will ensure that schools are good Title IX citizens.”

The Title IX coordinators have plenty of other responsibilities, such as providing access to nonbiased guidance counselors and support in achieving in male-dominated fields, Maatz said.

Dr. Klein said though public and private institutions that receive federal funds for education are covered by Title IX, like most other federal civil rights laws, Title IX itself has no “designated pot of money” for Title IX compliance.

Ideally, federal and state funding to help implement Title IX could be had by enacting a next-generation version of the 1974 Women’s Educational Equity Act, as well as providing additional funding for gender equity in STEM, in career and technical education, and to prevent sex discrimination in many other areas such as sexual harassment and assault, Dr. Klein said.

U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono, J.D., D-Hawaii, and U.S. Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-New York, proposed the Patsy Mink Gender Equity in Education Act, which would provide resource centers, training for Title IX coordinators, and coordination of gender equity work.

Dr. Klein said Title IX coordinators and everyone else concerned with educational equity also need to be concerned that charter schools and even some public schools pay special attention to integration and diversity rather than sex, race, and other types of segregation.

In December 2014, the Office for Civil Rights issued guidance about the need for evidence-based justifications for sex-segregated classes or schools since separate is not equal, and research is showing that it generally increases sex stereotyping and sex discrimination (See www.feminist.org/education/sexsegregation.asp for links).

Dr. Klein pointed to comments by Feminist Majority Foundation Policy Director Gaylynn Burroughs, J.D., in the Winter 2016 edition of Ms. magazine, titled “Not Going Back: Here’s Where We’re Drawing a Line in the Sand to Defend Our Rights” (page 24): “Our public schools should not promote such blatant sex stereotypes, which have a particularly harmful impact on girls and on trans and gender-nonconforming students.”

Dr. Klein said when schools segregate girls and boys, boys often receive more and superior resources.

Gender equity advocates are opposed to voucher programs — which allow children to attend private schools — for many reasons, but especially because it has not been established that schools that accept students using public funding for vouchers are required to comply with Title IX and other federal civil rights laws.

None of these issues can be resolved until Title IX coordinators are part of a solid network that ensures comprehensive training and enforcement, according to the Feminist Majority Foundation report.

“Only a few states, such as Connecticut and Oregon, have vertical Title IX Coordinator networks to connect the State Education Agency (SEA) with their district or postsecondary Title IX Coordinators and with Title IX Coordinators at the school level,” the report states. “There is also no national guidance and little state guidance on how district level Title IX Coordinators could ensure that there are effective Title IX Coordinators at the school level.”

The report continues, “Peer Title IX Coordinators across states, school districts, and schools rarely meet even for training or sharing best practices; and experts from gender equity organizations have not been encouraged to serve as advisors or partners to Title IX Coordinators. Similarly, topic-focused horizontal networking is especially important as Title IX Coordinators address increasingly complicated types of discrimination such as sexual harassment and assault, disparities in academic areas (such as STEM and Career Technical Education) and inequities in educator employment, sex segregated classes and schools, and in athletics.”

Despite the obstacles, Maatz and Dr. Klein, in separate interviews, say they are hopeful that Title IX’s success will continue.

At the beginning of this new administration, “people need to keep in mind what Trump does with his Cabinet,” Maatz said. “We believe personnel is policy. We expect Commerce Secretary nominee Wilbur Ross, Attorney General nominee Jeff Sessions, Education Secretary nominee Betsy DeVos, and other folks to get questions about Title IX and gender equity. DeVos didn’t send her children to public school and didn’t go to public school herself.

“Might a Trump administration try to tweak around the edges or de-emphasize enforcement and technological assistance? That remains to be seen. That’s what groups like AAUW are for — to showcase where they’re on track and where they’ve gone off the rails.”

As of this writing, the Associated Press reported on Feb. 18 that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender employees at the Department of Education sent an email to Education Secretary De Vos, seeking her commitment to safeguard Title IX anti-discrimination rules amid fears that the Trump adminstration may weaken the protections. The New York Times reported on Feb. 19 that the Association of Title IX Administrators (ATIXA) will distribute an updated “playbook” of best practices for enforcing Title IX to 33,000 people at schools, colleges, and universities.

The Times story quotes ATIXA Playbook’s introduction as saying while critics argue that colleges have no business policing sexual violence, this is a “politically opportune moment to offer a spirited defense” of why they should do so.

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