Manhattan College’s athletics department recently celebrated 50 years of Title IX during a home game at Draddy Gymnasium. The fanfare, however, was more about the anniversary of the women’s basketball team’s 1975 inception and first title three years later.
The Feb. 2 game against Fairfield University — which the Jaspers won 53-46 — included a halftime reunion of members of the Hudson Valley League Conference champion Lady Jaspers. Joanie McCrystal, one of the original players, recalled how they couldn’t play at Draddy because the men’s team needed it to practice. As for a locker room, they had to take over a “closet” to change, using towels to shield themselves.
They have certainly come a long way.
The key tenet of the federal Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 is the protection of students and higher education institutions that receive federal funds from discrimination based on their sex. What wasn’t featured during the halftime celebration was the progress made in the enforcement of Title IX’s sex harassment clause.
Title IX states no federal educational funds recipient may intimidate, threaten, coerce or discriminate against any individual for the purpose of interfering with any right or privilege secured by Title IX.
It goes on to state there may be no retaliation against a survivor because that person made a report or complaint under Title IX.
The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights enforces Title IX, which is supposed to protect people from discrimination based on sex in education programs or activities that receive federal financial assistance. And yet the sex harassment of mostly women and some men continues at many U.S. higher education institutions.
According to Know Your IX — a survivor- and youth-led project of advocates aiming to end sexual and dating violence at schools — approximately 19 percent of women are sexually assaulted during their time at college.
The campus climate survey at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2014 — which measures prevalence of and attitudes toward gender-based violence — found that 17 percent of female students had been assaulted while enrolled. At the same time, upward of 6 percent of men would experience sexual assault during college.
In 2000, MIT found 90 percent of campus sexual assaults were committee by perpetrators the survivor knew.
While Title IX has certainly made a difference on college campuses and other federally funded schools, some U.S. senators believe a more comprehensive civil rights bill needed to be passed.
Sen. Bob Casey and Sen. Mazie Hirono, and U.S. Reps. Jahana Hayes, Debbie Dingell and Deborah Ross proposed the SAFER Act — Students Access to Freedom and Educational Rights. The bill would bring Title IX more in-line with Title VII, which prevents sex discrimination in the workplace.
The bill would amend Title IX and other statutes prohibiting sex-based discrimination to remove “unreasonably burdensome” standards for private harassment lawsuits seeking damages.
Unfortunately, that bill was not passed by either chamber in the last Congress. And with the current makeup of the House, it may not stand a good chance of passage now.
Legislation like the SAFER Act is essential to protect our students who have experienced sex assault, harassment and discrimination related to those acts. The SAFER Act would give Title IX a little more teeth when it comes to mandating Title IX coordinators be trained properly, and that schools are held accountable for failures to address violence.