Dr. Bernice Sandler, known as the “godmother of Title IX” for her work advocating for women’s and girls rights in education, died over the weekend at the age of 90. The Washington Post published her obituary Monday.
Sandler first embarked on a decades-long campaign against sex discrimination in academia in 1969. It led to the 1972 passage of Title IX, which bans sex discrimination in federally funded educational institutions.
For her life’s work, Sandler was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in Seneca Falls, New York, in 2013.
Title IX was passed with students and women in the collegiate environment in mind, though it is most widely used to open up opportunities and equal treatment for female student-athletes.
Sandler Changes College Culture
Sandler was met with what’s now termed sex discrimination when she applied for seven different teaching positions at the University of Maryland. She had a doctorate from the school in psychology and counseling but was not considered. Nor was she considered for future positions.
It was three words from hiring managers, Sandler said in a 1994 interview, that changed the paths of Sandler and millions of women after her:
“I don’t think I would have noticed if they’d said you come on too strong,” she said. The problem was that phrase “too strong for a woman.”
There was no federal law prohibiting discrimination against women in education, but Sandler found there was an executive order by President Lyndon B. Johnson that prohibited it by organizations with federal contracts. That included public universities and gave Sandler a “Eureka moment,” the Washington Post recounted.
She joined the Women’s Equity Action League, formed the one-woman “Federal Action Contract Compliance Committee,” and challenged 250 institutions while coordinating a massive letter-writing campaign. She then worked for a House subcommittee and the Health, Education and Welfare Department.
Title IX was passed on June 23, 1972 because of her work, and is most widely used in reference to equality in collegiate sports for both men and women.
Title IX’s Impact In Sport
At the time Title IX was passed, one in 27 girls participated in high school sports. That was because opportunities were limited and avenues to play cut off. The law instead required schools with federal funding to give equal opportunity and standing to both sexes and it’s now closer to two in five girls.
Schools must comply with one of the three prongs of Title IX that asks if the school serves student-athletes proportionately, if the school has a history of expanding participation and if the school accommodates interests and abilities of the underrepresented sex.
Compliance with the law became mandatory in 1978 and its impact on women’s athletics was seen immediately. Six times as many women competed in high school athletics in 1978 compared to eight years prior. University programs also expanded, according to a Time Magazine report celebrating the 45th anniversary in 2017.
Team USA also noted the anniversary, sharing the participation numbers in Olympics from the year Title IX was passed and the 2010s. At the Munich Olympic Games, 84 of the United States’ 400 athletes were women (21 percent). The difference resulted in triple the medals for men.
At the 2012 Olympics in London, 40 years later, women outnumbered men for the first time (269-261, 50.8 percent) and earned more medals for the first time (58-45, 56 percent). Those trends continued into Rio at both the Olympics, where women won a record 61 medals, and Paralympics.
Title IX did not only usher in a new era of participation for women. It continues to seek equal treatment for student-athletes of both sexes in high school and college.
The law applies to equipment — for example, both soccer teams should practice on equivalent surfaces instead of one on a torn up field and another on turf. It also applies to scheduling — putting a girls basketball game before the boys every time is not fair treatment — as well as per diems, facilities, locker rooms and coaching.
And though passed into law for girls and women to have equal access, it does apply to boys and men when they are being discriminated against in the ways the law outlines.