Title IX: 50 years, and an eye toward the future

Title IX, the federal civil rights law passed on June 23, 1972, prohibits sex-based discrimination at schools or other educational programs that receive federal funding. Beloit College salutes the early advocates of women’s athletics, like Ruth Colman Peterson.

Kim Stein’86 shares a love of sports with her young daughter.

They watch women’s sporting matches and follow megastar female athletes. Stein loves to run and play softball and basketball, and like her daughter today, she had all the opportunities to compete.

But half a century ago, it wasn’t so equal for women who played sports.

Kim Stein'86 and other women athletes at Beloit College benefitted from Title IX. Kim Stein'86 and other women athletes at Beloit College benefitted from Title IX.Stein remembers first hearing those mythic words “Title IX” from her Beloit College coaches. She wasn’t quite sure about all the legalese, but the law, they told her, would level the playing field, giving more female athletes the chance to compete.

“It really opened my eyes that women didn’t always have the opportunities that I enjoyed my whole life. It made me very grateful for the people who paved my way,” says Stein, who is now a Ph.D. scientist at Gatorade Sports Science Institute.

Title IX, the federal civil rights law, passed on June 23, 1972, prohibits sex-based discrimination at schools or other educational programs that receive federal funding.

Fifty years later, there is a renewed commitment to fight for equality outlined in Title IX.

A powerful advocate

One of those trail-blazing women at Beloit College was Ruth Colman Peterson’38, former registrar, and a lifelong advocate for the college, who was devoted to students and equality.

Ruth Colman Peterson'38. Ruth Colman Peterson’38.At just five feet tall, Peterson already had a powerful reputation when she became commissioner of the Midwest Athletics Conference for Women (MACW).

The MACW was formed in 1977, as the growth of women’s athletics surged on college campuses. Peterson took over the role of the commissioner from Geneva Meers. In the first year, championships in basketball, cross country, outdoor track & field, softball, swimming, and volleyball were added. Indoor track was added in 1984 and soccer in 1986, according to the MACW website.

Peterson was equal parts energy, effort, and intelligence, helping the conference grow and develop, says colleague and former Athletic Director (1985-2004) Ed DeGeorge.

“Ruth influenced people on campus. She was a powerhouse,” DeGeorge says. “And everything she did was to help women compete in athletics because when she was a girl that wasn’t possible.”

“Women who got to play in the beginning were just so grateful to have that kind of opportunity, so it was all a positive thing and by the ’90s the college had built a powerful women’s program and Ruth was in the middle of that,” DeGeorge says.

Awards in Peterson’s name are given to the top senior female Beloit College athlete each year, and at the conference level, to the female student-athletes with the highest GPA.

DeGeorge remembers basketball, volleyball, tennis, cross-country, and softball all winning conference championships in his years as athletic director, continuing the momentum of Title IX generated two decades earlier.

“Title IX was important nationally because it said if you are going to get federal funds, you’ve to go to do this, so it was a great push to make women’s athletics real and possible,” DeGeorge says.

But that’s not to say there wasn’t pushback from some schools and programs that wanted to preserve the power and money for men’s sports.

“At Beloit College, there was no opposition to Title IX, but there was at other schools, particularly at Division I, where football and basketball programs were the big revenue producers,” DeGeorge says. “There were some places where people didn’t want to share the money but that was taken care of with Title IX.”

Cecil Youngblood, Dean of Students & Chief Diversity Officer and former head basketball coach, is tasked with keeping the college compliant with Title IX laws and regulations.

Women’s athletics gets the most attention when people talk about the educational amendments of 1972, but it’s farther reaching: It prohibits all discrimination on the basis of sex, in education, in athletics, and in college processes. That includes prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and pregnancy.

The law also states that women athletes should have equitable treatment, facilities, and equipment.

But how the law is ignored was in full view recently when an Oregon NCAA women’s basketball player shared a TikTok video of a small, under-equipped gym at the Women’s Final Four in March 2021.

“When the women athletes walked into the gym to work out, it wasn’t any better than what I have in my basement, and in comparison, the workout facility for the men was state-of-the-art,” Youngblood says. “That shouldn’t happen in 2021.”

But Youngblood said the 50th anniversary of Title IX deserves celebration even with these issues still happening.

“It’s been very beneficial in many ways,” Youngblood says. “It obviously brought women’s athletics into the light, and when there is a problem with equity, Title IX can address it. And because of the laws, we can make changes in high schools and colleges that are beneficial for women and female-identifying athletes.”

Title IX’s future

As a scientist at the Gatorade Sports Science Institute, Stein has a passion for educating athletes on how to fuel their bodies for maximum performance. It’s a role, she said, many women like her found within the sports and athletic industry, thanks to Title XI.

Kim Stein'86 Kim Stein'86“Title IX opened opportunities for women in athletics of course, but also in other areas,” Stein says. “I never questioned that I could be a female scientist. Title IX allowed me to be in the position I am now with Gatorade. They needed people who were good athletes and who understood science.”

Stein sees the future, through her daughter’s eyes. She often asks her mom why there aren’t as many people at some women’s sports events, or why women athletes aren’t paid as much as men athletes.

It’s that reality of inequality, still today, that keeps her motivated toward positive changes.

“The 50th anniversary of Title IX is a chance to look back at how far we have come, but it’s also a chance to get fired up because we still have a long way to go.”

To learn more about history of women’s athletics at Beloit, read the story of Mabel Lee, who founded PE courses for women.

By: Jennifer Fetterly
June 23, 2022

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