Title IX represents more than sports

Alina Weinstein cannot imagine college without gymnastics. The senior Illinois gymnast is grateful for her scholarship opportunities and knows she has Title IX to thank for that.

She doesn’t know Ann Penstone, who was a collegiate athlete at Illinois in the early 1970s, who spent her college career fighting for athletes like Weinstein to have opportunities in sports.

Penstone is fine with the lack of recognition, it’s actually what she wants.

Saturday marked the 40th anniversary of President Nixon’s signing of Title IX. The 37-word law calls for schools to provide equal participation opportunities for men and women in any governmentally funded activities.

“Basically our goal was for people of the next generation to never know there has been a problem,” Penstone said. “And that has proven true for the most part.”

Title IX is often regarded as a law about sports, although there is no mention of women or athletics in the wording which states: “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in or denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.”

The creation of athletic teams for females was one of the most significant by-products. However, athletics wasn’t even thought of when the bill was originally presented said Dr. Bernice Sandler, a Title IX pioneer.

When Sandler was in elementary school, she wasn’t allowed to run the slide projector or be a school crossing guard. She said what set her off was when she wasn’t hired for a tenure job at the University of Maryland because she “came on too strong for a woman.”

Sandler did research and discovered that there were no laws that prohibited sexual discrimination. She decided to take an active role in creating one.

“I testified, and I played a role in Title IX becoming a law,” Sandler said. “I was there the entire time, and I have been involved with Title IX ever since, which is longer than anyone else.”

Before the law’s passing, the majority of women would get rejected from law schools or medical schools, simply because of gender.

It wasn’t until the law almost passed that it was realized athletics would be affected under the broad language of Title IX, Sandler said.

“Even then I didn’t realize the magnitude of it and how women in athletics were being discriminated,” Sandler said. “I thought maybe women could have more athletic activities on field day.”

Title IX significantly pushed athletics and education forward at Illinois, according to Kaamilyah Abdullah-Span, associate director for equal opportunities and access at Illinois.

She said the focus has been mainly on athletics, although it is important to make sure an equal amount of women and men are admitted to college and that improvements are made to colleges that are historically male or female, like engineering or nursing.

“People used to have the mindset that women were only around for teaching, nursing and being moms,” Abdullah-Span said. “Some people still have that mindset. There is still growth required.”

Athletics, which were most notably affected by Title IX, went through drastic changes during Penstone’s time at Illinois in 1970-1974. Softball, women’s gymnastics and field hockey were dropped at Illinois in the early 1970s. Penstone said there were attempts to drop all other varsity sports, but during her senior year in 1974, herself and several other athletes fought to keep them.

“If there wasn’t such a fight, the University probably would have gotten rid of everything,” Penstone said.

Dr. Karol Kahrs was hired as an assistant athletic director at Illinois in June of 1974. She was responsible for implementing women’s sports. Basketball, volleyball, track, golf, swimming and gymnastics were brought in as part of Illinois varsity athletic program for the 1974-1975 season. The total budget for women’s athletics for the 1974-75 school year was $82,535, of which $33,570 was for salaries and $2,500 was for equipment.

“Illinois decided to follow the rules,” Penstone said. “They did it big and they did it right.”

The University continued working to stay in compliance with Title IX which proved to be a struggle throughout the years, said Kent Brown, assistant athletic director and head of media relations at Illinois.

In order to abide by Title IX laws, men’s swimming and diving and fencing were cut from Illinois athletics in 1993.

Members of the men’s swimming team sued the University for being denied equal opportunity after their sport was cut. The lawsuit was denied under the U.S. Court of Appeals, which sent a precedent that men could not use Title IX to claim sex discrimination after sports were dropped due to budget.

“Some sacrifices must be made for equity because of budgets,” Brown said.

Title IX requires equity, not equality. Equity is fair and sensible treatment and equality is identical treatment, which can often be implausible, said Ellyn Bartges, the Equity and Affirmative Action Officer, Chief Diversity Officer, Title IX and ADA Compliance Officer at St. Cloud State, which has done extensive research on Title IX.

Women’s soccer was added at Illinois in 1993 and softball followed in 2000.

“Change is slow,” Bartges said. “Especially when you are instituting not just a structural change, but a philosophical change.”

Brown said it was important for the University to honor those athletes who were not recognized by Title IX. In November 2003, Illinois recognized women athletes who participated in sports at Illinois before 1994 through a program called Illinois 3D. It stood for dreams, desire and dedication.

“We dreamed this would be done. We dedicated ourselves to make it happen, and our desire was pretty clear. It was for love of the sport,” said Penstone, who was one of more than 100 athletes who returned to be recognized and awarded a varsity letter they had never previously received.

“I can’t tell you the number of people who were so touched and the number of people who were so happy to be honored as athletes,” Penstone said.

Brown said an issue is finding a women’s sport that can fill up as many roster spots as football, which will never leave the University. A popular sport to add at colleges is rowing because those teams can have around 80 athletes on a roster. But with little water around the area, it would not be the best decision.

Brown added that for now, Illinois is in compliance with all the Title IX rules, although it is a struggle to keep up. He does not see any additional sports coming anytime soon.

“For as long as I can remember, Illinois has been in compliance with Title IX standards,” Brown said.

Universities must pass two areas of a three-prong test to be in compliance with Title IX. One is proportional compliance, where the percentage of male and female athletes must be proportionally similar to the number of male and female undergraduate students. The University can also demonstrate a history and a continuing practice of program expansion for the underrepresented gender or it must fully and effectively accommodate the interests and abilities of the underrepresented gender.

The standards can be vague and often confusing when enforcing Title IX laws.

Illinois is currently working to make clear definitions of the rules to stop any uncertainty, Abdullah-Span said.

“There is always room for improvement on all levels,” Abdullah-Span said. “The law has done great things for education and sport, but it must always be monitored to make sure the restrictions are being followed in an ever-changing environment.”