Title 9

by Nancy Cayton

Almost as soon as I heard about the challenge, I knew I wanted to create a quilt focused on Title IX (part of the Higher Education Amendments of 1972). This federal law prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in educational institutions receiving federal aid, an area that earlier civil rights laws missed.

Educational programs and activities that receive Department of Education funds must operate in a nondiscriminatory manner. Some key areas are: recruitment, admissions, and counseling; financial assistance; athletics; sex-based harassment; treatment of pregnant and parenting students; discipline; single-sex education; and employment. In the 1980s and 1990s, the Supreme Court issued decisions making clear that sexual harassment and assault is a form of sex discrimination.

It is a common misconception that Title IX is a sports equity law, but athletics are only one area affected. Although it has had a serious impact on sports, Title IX is a civil rights and anti-discrimination law with far-reaching impact. Because education is linked to other benefits, such as participation in the work force, increased earnings, better health, and increased access to healthcare, the benefits extend far beyond those experienced in school. 

Prior to the passage of this law, it was legal for colleges and universities to have quotas for female students, require higher grades and test scores for their admission, or flat-out refuse to accept them. If accepted, women were excluded from "male" programs, such as medicine; and faced more restrictive rules than their male peers, such as earlier curfews. Pregnant students could be forced to leave school. Sexual harassment took place openly with no recourse. Discrimination extended beyond students; female faculty were more frequently denied tenure than their male counterparts.

Title IX became law shortly before I entered school. As a result, doors were open for me (without me even realizing) that were firmly shut for women and girls who had preceded me. I am incredibly thankful that there was no question that I could take college-preparation courses in high school, go to college and study any subject I wanted, and have tenured female instructors while I was there. Sports in college and high school were available to me. Passage of this law has also allowed male students to study subjects that were previously closed to them, thus all students have benefited from this law. This is not to say that there were never times when things weren’t as fair and discrimination-free as should have been then or now. As with voting rights laws, we must remain diligent in ensuring that the advances we have made are not chipped away.

For Title IX violations, students should contact the Title IX coordinator at their campus or the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights at or 1-800-421-3481.