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40 years after Title IX

The London 2012 Olympics marked the first time in his­tory that every par­tic­i­pating country sent a female ath­lete to the games. In honor of this mon­u­mental feat, the games were dubbed “The Year of the Woman.”

“That was a big step not just in the world of sports, but for all women around the world,” said Erika Koss, assis­tant dean for research and pro­gram devel­op­ment in the Col­lege of Social Sci­ences and Human­i­ties and the asso­ciate director of Northeastern’s Human­i­ties Center.

Last week Koss mod­er­ated a panel dis­cus­sion that used the Olympic accom­plish­ments of women and the 40th anniver­sary of Title IX as a launching pad to dis­cuss the con­tin­uing impact of the 1972 land­mark leg­is­la­tion. The amend­ment banned dis­crim­i­na­tion on the basis of sex under any edu­ca­tional pro­gram or activity receiving fed­eral funding.

The event was held in the John D. O’Bryant African-​​American Insti­tute Library and co-​​sponsored by the Human­i­ties Center and the Ath­letics Depart­ment. It fea­tured four female pan­elists, all of whom said Title IX had directly affected their lives to varying degrees: Amanda Braun, North­eastern University’s exec­u­tive senior asso­ciate director of ath­letics; Amy Huchthausen, com­mis­sioner of the America East Con­fer­ence; Heather O’Reilly, a member of the 2012 U.S. National Women’s Soccer team and three-​​time gold medalist; and Eileen McDonagh, a North­eastern polit­ical sci­ence pro­fessor and co-​​author of “Playing with the Boys: Why Sep­a­rate is Not Equal in Sports.”

In her remarks at the start of the event, McDonagh noted an excep­tion in Title IX per­mit­ting sex seg­re­ga­tion in con­tact sports such a boxing, wrestling or rugby.

“Sports is the most sex-​​segregated sec­ular insti­tu­tion in Amer­ican society,” McDonagh said. She attrib­utes this to a socially con­structed belief that women are phys­i­cally infe­rior to men, and there­fore will be phys­i­cally and psy­cho­log­i­cally injured if put in direct com­pe­ti­tion with men.

“We have infe­ri­ority, injury and a form of immorality as the three rea­sons that under­line the argu­ment for sex seg­re­ga­tion,” she added.

Braun, for her part, explained that the number of women par­tic­i­pating in sports has increased, but pointed to a large gap between how many men and women are in sports lead­er­ship posi­tions. “When women get into more decision-​​making roles and are starting to influ­ence leg­is­la­tion,” she asserted, “then we’re at least at the table to have that conversation.”

While pan­elists agreed that much more progress must be made, they also said there is much to cel­e­brate in the 40 years since the enact­ment of Title IX. O’Reilly noted that her skill and deter­mi­na­tion earned her a full schol­ar­ship to play soccer at the Uni­ver­sity of North Car­olina at Chapel Hill, but cred­ited Title IX for making playing pos­sible. She stressed that women who receive sim­ilar oppor­tu­ni­ties must take advan­tage of them to the fullest.

“If you can prove it on the field, you’re going to open a lot of eyes and open a lot of oppor­tu­ni­ties,” O’Reilly said.

– by Jordana Torres

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