50 years of Title IX and the end of Roe v. Wade
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Good morning and happy Monday! Last week was a busy one when it comes to women’s and gender issues. We’ve got lots to get to, but I want to first say thank you to everyone who joined our Fearless Focus virtual conversation last week. If you couldn’t make it, you’ll definitely want to watch a replay – our panelists had great insight and words of wisdom to share.

Last Thursday marked the 50th anniversary of Title IX, which was a groundbreaking piece of gender equity legislation that banned sex discrimination in education programs receiving federal financial assistance.  

On Friday, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade, ending the federal guarantee to a right to abortion. Abortion rights advocates fear the decision will negatively affect women’s participation and success in areas of education and the workplace, while anti-abortion advocates are celebrating the decision, saying it will save lives. In May I wrote about the implications if the landmark case were to be overturned.

This newsletter was produced as the news about the Supreme Court's decision was coming out, but we know its impact will be ongoing throughout the country. The Business Record and Fearless will continue to report on the effects of the decision on Iowans.

Read more about the Roe v. Wade decision and the past, present and future of Title IX below.

Lastly, a programming note. Next week’s newsletter will arrive in your inboxes on Tuesday, July 5, due to the Fourth of July holiday.

Have a great week.

– Emily Kestel, Fearless editor

At its 50-year anniversary, a look at what Title IX is and how it’s affected Iowans
Fifty years ago this month, Title IX was signed into law as part of the Education Amendments of 1972. It reads, "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."

It was initially introduced with the intention of admitting more women into graduate-level programs, but is most commonly associated today with athletics.

By one count, 75% of secondary school students and 60% of parents polled said they knew "nothing at all" about Title IX. If you too find yourself in that boat, here’s a brief summary of what it’s all about – and what’s left out.

What protections does Title IX offer?

The law protects students from discrimination based on sex, and affects women's and girls’ participation in sports, college admissions, access to academic majors and vocational programs, teaching and coaching positions, and the handling of reported sexual assaults on campus. Pregnant students are also protected.

Protections against discrimination of transgender students have wavered back and forth – in 2016 the departments of Justice and Education issued guidance saying Title IX bans discrimination based on a student’s gender identity, but a year later, the Trump administration revoked the guidance. In 2021, President Joe Biden signed an executive order mandating that Title IX protects LGBTQ students.

The Biden administration proposed a series of amendments to Title IX last week to include protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, strengthening the rights of LGBTQ+ students. The proposed amendments would also include language to prevent discrimination based on sex stereotypes and pregnancy and restore protections for victims of sex-based harassment.

What was it like for girls and women in the realm of education and sports before Title IX was passed?

Before 1972, women were routinely discouraged from participating in sports and pursuing professions in academic fields.

In 1972, fewer than 300,000 girls played high school sports, while 3.6 million boys did so. At the collegiate level, 170,000 men participated in sports, while only 30,000 women did.

Girls’ participation in sports in Iowa, however, was seen as an anomaly back then.

A three-part series in Sports Illustrated in 1973 examined nationwide gender discrimination against women athletes, referring to the "American system of athletics" as "sexist and hypocritical." The arguments against girls and women participating in sports can be summed up in three buckets, the article said. "1) athletics are physically bad for women, competition may masculinize their appearance and affect their sexual behavior; 2) women do not play sports well enough to deserve athletic equality; and 3) girls are not really interested in sports."

Taking aim at those arguments, Sports Illustrated featured the state of Iowa as proof of the "viable rewards of female athletic equality."

What happened in the years following the passage of Title IX?

By 1979, female enrollment at colleges and universities surpassed male enrollment. By 2016, women became a majority of law students. By 2017, women were a majority of new medical students.

Girls’ and women's participation in athletics increased dramatically. In 1972, 1 out of 27 girls played sports. Now, 2 out of 5 do so. Today, more than 3.4 million high school girls play sports and 219,000 women participate in NCAA athletics.

According to IGHSAU, 70,000 girls compete in Iowa high school athletics and the state continues to rank in the top half of the U.S. in terms of girls’ high school athletic participation.

What’s next?

The majority of Americans who have heard about Title IX say it has had a positive effect on gender equality in sports, but 37% say it hasn’t gone far enough.

An external review of the NCAA determined there are still "significant" gender disparities in college athletics. The NCAA spends more money on male athletes than female athletes, and doesn’t give women’s sports the same opportunity as men’s sports to generate revenue.

Beyond sports, men continue to hold a disproportionate amount of faculty and leadership positions in higher education.

While blatantly sexist policies, practices and behaviors have dropped, systemic barriers continue to block women’s advancement in professional fields. Access to child care, paid family leave and equal pay are several examples that experts give for lasting gender inequality.

Americans have also renewed calls for the passing of the Equal Rights Amendment, which would prohibit sex discrimination in areas beyond education.

What will you do in the next 50 years to advance gender equity?
Title IX 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 education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance." That’s it — 37 words.

How do 37 words begin to cover everything necessary to ensure that individuals are not treated differently on the basis of sex in their pursuit of an education? Most of us did not learn about Title IX in school other than maybe hearing about gender equity in sports. While sports are a vital part of Title IX, it goes much further.

For example, Title IX provides supportive measures and rights for those who have been subjected to gender violence, including sexual harassment, sexual assault, dating and domestic violence, and stalking. It provides assurances that individuals who are harmed have access to resources, resolution options and remedies.

Title IX turns 50 this year. Has anything changed in those 50 years?

Reporting an act of gender violence is much more acceptable for students in 2022 than it was in 1972. More students are willing to report their experiences and more of their peers are more apt to intervene or report on behalf of others. We have a clearer understanding of what gender discrimination is and we’re in a better position to address issues as they arise. And yet we must continue our prevention efforts and educating students about gender discrimination and violence. College students are at a high risk for gender violence.

Until 2011, schools carried out those 37 words without clear explanation of how to put those words into action. In 2011, the Obama administration released a series of guidance documents that emphasized the need to address sexual assault and gender violence head-on. Many schools and universities rose to the occasion, ramped up efforts and rewrote policies.

In 2020, the Trump administration took things a step further and enacted regulations that now have the force and effect of law rather than just guidance. Those original 37 words were translated to 30-plus pages of actual regulations that tell us how to carry out those 37 words. Another 2,000-plus pages of preamble tells us how to interpret the 30-plus pages of regulations that tell us how to address the 37 words of law. And now in 2022, we’ve been told the rule-making process will begin again for changes to the 2020 regulations.

While the federal government continues to debate on how best to regulate Title IX, I ask you to consider how we can collectively and individually have an impact on the next 50 years.

What can each of us do to bring more awareness to gender discrimination and gender violence? How can each of us work toward eliminating the actions and behaviors that require us to have Title IX regulations in the first place?

I challenge you to continue learning more and doing more. Visit sites like It’s On Us or No More to learn about the issue and how to take action.

What 37 words describe your plan for the next 50 years?

Leah Gutknecht is the Title IX officer at the University of Northern Iowa, where she serves as the assistant to the president for compliance and equity management. In her role, she oversees the functions of equal opportunity, affirmative action, compliance with Title VII, Title IX and the Americans with Disabilities Act, as well as the university’s prevention efforts for discrimination, harassment and sexual misconduct.

In the headlines
Worth checking out
Abortion is no longer a fundamental right in Iowa. What's next? ("River to River" podcast). Mayra Flores’ victory set a record for women in Congress. It also reflects the growing visibility of Republican Latinas (The 19th). Never Alone: West Des Moines woman launches local widows support group (WHO 13). Winnie launches new marketplace to help child care workers find well-paying jobs (Fast Company). Here’s the top concern employees have about Roe v. Wade – and the best way for CEOs to address it (Fortune).
Worth checking out – Title IX
Girls Got Game Fifty/50 shorts (ESPN YouTube). The 19th Represents Summit: 50 Years of Title IX (The 19th News). 'Hate to see where we'd be today without it': Celebrating 50 years of Title IX (Iowa State Daily). 50 years later, Title IX's roots can be traced to Iowa. But there's work to be done (Des Moines Register).
Fearless Focus event replay
Did you miss our Fearless Focus event last week? Catch a full video replay – and stay tuned for written takeaways from our conversation!
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