Editor’s Note: This is a guest commentary. The opinions do not necessarily reflect the views of the editorial board.
Before joining the Demand IX fellowship by WomenX in September 2022, I had never heard of Title IX, or my insufficiency of knowledge led me to my obliviousness of conversations around Title IX. After learning extensively about Title IX from WomenX, I realized that several college students lack awareness of what it is, and those who are aware live under the assumption that it merely prohibits and protects against sexual assault. For example, I overheard a conversation between two girls. One of the girls mentioned her Title IX case, and the other girl responded, “Is that the rape stuff?”
As Title IX is more widely known for its sexual assault portion, there is a stigma whenever it is uttered. Students quickly conclude that a person is either a victim of sexual assault or an abuser if they are associated with Title IX. However, that is not always the case. The immediate goal of Title IX in 1972 was to allow women equal access to academic and extracurricular activities and opportunities by preventing educational institutions and programs that receive federal funding from discriminating on the basis of sex. Colleges and universities should build greater awareness around this aspect of Title IX so beneficiaries can become acquainted with its impact and the protections and benefits it grants. As a result, this will eradicate the taboo that overshadows Title IX’s impact.
Today, Title IX has grown to incorporate more than providing women equal access to academic and extracurricular activities and opportunities. For example, in 2011, under the Obama Administration, sexual harassment became the most pressing issue associated with Title IX. As a result, the Office for Civil Rights in the Department of Education laid out detailed sexual assault rules, like mandating schools to dispense access to sex-segregated facilities like bathrooms, showers and dorms based on students gender identity rather than their biological sex. This was later overturned under the Trump administration. In 2022, there were some proposed changes to Title IX’s regulation. These changes include students receiving appropriate support in accessing all aspects of education and strengthening protections for LGBTQ+ students who face discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Additionally, Title IX’s definition of sex discrimination has grown to include prejudice based on pregnancy, sexual orientation and gender identity rather than only discrimination against women.
Before the establishment of Title IX, it was proposed that Title VII, which prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin, should extend protection to sex discrimination. However, the Black American community rebutted the proposal because it would create a distraction from racial discrimination in the workplace.
Today, Title IX’s extensions have constructed a distraction from the statute’s primary goal of providing women equal access to federally funded educational activities and programs. Title IX has continuously shied away from eradicating institutional obstacles to educational opportunities for women and girls and toward the much more ambitious project of transforming the way we think about sex differences, gender roles and sexuality in general. Title IX should have maintained its focus on providing women equal access to federally funded activities and programs. If Title IX focuses on its original goal, giving women equal access, discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity would create its own protection. This way, all these issues can receive the direct and specific attention they deserve. Since Title IX has already created these extensions, colleges and universities are obligated to generate awareness around the entire flesh of Title IX so that the original goal is not forgotten.