This post was written by our high school intern Julia Okun.
|Sec. of Education Arne Duncan addresses the audience at the White House Title IX 40th Anniversary Celebration. Photo courtesy of Anna Olkovsky.|
The D.C. heat can be insufferable this time of year, but trudging through the 95 degree oven is much more bearable when you’re on your way to the White House Title IX 40th Anniversary Celebration at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. Last Wednesday I had the privilege of sharing a room with political, intellectual and athletic heroes such as Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Billie Jean King, renowned tennis player and founder of the Women’s Sports Foundation. It was an afternoon not only of celebration of how far we’ve come with gender equality in education, but also a reflection on all that’s left to do.
Title IX, passed in 1972, is the piece of legislation that mandated equal funding for all students, regardless of sex. Bonnie Bernstein, the ESPN broadcaster who moderated the first panel discussion, cited the 1000% increase in the number of female high school athletes since the birth of Title IX. Collegiate numbers have also grown substantially. While that has primarily assumed the form of enhancing women’s sports programs, it also holds value in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields.
|Former Sen. Birch Bayh, who originally helped to pass Title IX, addressed the audience at the White House Title IX 40th Anniversary Celebration. Photo courtesy of Anna Olkovsky.|
A lot of teenage girls today either don’t know what Title IX is, or only have a vague knowledge of it. While that could easily be seen as troubling, in reality it’s a testament to how far society has progressed. The fact that girls have the same opportunities to play sports as boys has become so engrained in today’s culture that this great privilege is simply inherent to this generation. As a current female high school athlete, I can attest to that sentiment. I’m eternally grateful to Former Sen. Birch Bayh, the man responsible for getting Title IX passed and attendee of the Anniversary Celebration, and the generations of women who defied the norm and participated in athletics before Title IX was passed. But I am also overcome with a sense of gratitude for my ignorance. I cherish the fact that I can play soccer and run track, and not think twice about it.
But as I said before, Title IX is not just about sports. Another place of historical inequity is in STEM. These fields have been predominantly male, and while times are beginning to change, there is still a long way we have to go. The panel on “Advancing Our Commitment to Title IX in Education” discussed the challenges girls face in a society that is not just apathetic to their involvement in STEM, but often actively discouraging.
|A panel discussion on Title IX and education. Photo courtesy of Anna Olkovsky.|
Today, things are starting to change. There are increasing numbers of STEM afterschool programs that are inspiring girls to pursue these fields. Kids can get involved at young ages with programs like robotics. But it has to extend all the way to the home, and to the parents. Gabriela Farfan, a Stanford University Geology Major and Intel Science Talent Winner who sat on the education panel, talked about how little girls might collect rocks in the park and bring them eager-faced to their parents. But at the week’s end, the parents would just throw them out instead of teaching the kid about what type of rock they were or where it came from. Fostering kids’ interest in science at young ages is key—for both boys and girls. And whether that comes from parents or afterschool programs, exposure is essential.
It was an inspiring afternoon, to say the least. And I mean that in the literal sense. Beyond appreciation for the pioneers who spoke, I was left with the resounding message of what is still needed. Russlynn Ali, Assistant Secretary of Civil Rights for the Department of Education, summarized it perfectly: “Title IX is not a panacea.” There is still work to be done to maintain the strides we’ve achieved, and in never stopping to take more.