Title IX’s impact on women athletes of color

Kiamsha Bynes
Courtesy of Rutgers

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Title IX turns 50 years old on June 23. The historic legislation, a section of the Education Amendments, was a set of changes to the Higher Education Act of 1965, is barely 40 words: “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any educational program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”

“There are two words missing from that paragraph,” explained Mary Jo Kane, the director-emeritus of the Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport at the University of Minnesota. “The first word that’s missing is ‘sports’.  The second word that’s missing is ‘physical’,” she pointed out.

President Richard Nixon signed Title IX into law on June 23, 1972, during his first term in office. It is mostly known for providing equal opportunities for girls and women in sport and less about education. But since its passage and signing, Title IX has been modified to include prohibiting discrimination because of pregnancy; gender identity and sexual orientation; sexual harassment and violence policies; and, of course, expansion of athletics, especially for underrepresented women and girls.

It’s that latter focus that is not often discussed about Title IX. Is it really working for girls and women of color?  

William C. Rhoden wrote in 2012 for the New York Times, “Race is by far the most debilitating limitation of Title IX, yet you barely hear discussion of it.”

In the number of Title IX recognition and celebratory pieces that have run locally and elsewhere, little is being said of its impact on Blacks and other underrepresented folk.

“I would say…Title IX has not been necessarily beneficial to women of color,” said Madyson Roach, a former high school softball player in Portland, Oregon, to my question as she appeared on an April virtual event on Title IX hosted by the Shirley Povich Center for Sports Journalism at the University of Maryland. “I think I’m still learning to this day more information and details about Title IX that I never really knew…but I’m happy that I have an understanding now,” said Roach.

“The biggest thing is access and accessibility,” added Rutgers doctoral student Kiamsha Bynes, speaking on what’s available for Black girls and girls of color in underserved communities. She wrote on her school’s Title IX recognition blog, “Although not perfect and far from balanced, Title IX has provided a foundation for Black women to enter sporting positions at the collegiate level.”

But Bynes told the MSR that Title IX and its supporters are mostly focused on gender equity, not racial equity. Also, she noted, “Black women seem to be overshadowed” in their contributions, which she considers “hidden gems of history.” 

What also isn’t talked about in honoring Title IX’s half-century existence is that it almost never happened: Several Black legislators in Congress, including Shirley Chisholm and Charles Diggs, opposed the bill, not because of gender equity but because it seemingly did not address racial equity. We learned and wrote about this in 2012 (Another View, Sept. 26, 2012, which is being rerun on the MSR website).  

Title IX is enforced by the Office for Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Education. Are all schools fully in compliance with the law?

Next: Is Title IX being enforced, and if so how?