The recent victory of the U.S. Women's National Soccer team has been a joyful time for the nation. Girls and boys of all ages have new athletic superstars to admire. In part, this momentous accomplishment of winning four World Cup Titles is a testament to the outcomes of a policy known as Title IX.
Usually it is referred to in the context of sports or athletics, in general terms this important policy broadly and explicitly prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any educational institution that receives federal funding (Title IX at XLV., 2017). Title IX’s initial focus centered around athletics because of the great disparity of funding that existed between men and women athletic departments. Females were being denied opportunities on educational campuses in numerous ways, and specifically in athletics this manifested itself in less scholarships available to women as well as a lack of adequate equipment for women’s sports. Title IX has been credited with changing this reality. For example, a year before Title IX was established in 1972, “...there were about 310,000 girls and women in America playing high school and college sports…” and by 2012 this number had increased tenfold (Title IX at XLV., 2017, p. 11).
The successes of Title IX reveal an important truth — policy can and does work. Areas of athletics seem to be improving, but that is not necessarily the case for other educational areas impacted by gender discrimination. Sexual harassment is a key expansion of Title IX’s application. Unfortunately, the American Association of University Women has reported several disturbing rescinding efforts by the current leadership at the U.S. Department of Education .
An area in need of attention in higher education is STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). Women in STEM academia have not only remained underrepresented, they have also reported a high occurrence of turnover, few advancement opportunities, inadequate equipment, assignment of heavier workloads than their male counterparts, and unequal pay . For several years women’s advocacy groups have called for Title IX enforcement in the STEM fields, and now proposed legislation has been created to address this issue. H.R. 36, the Combating Sexual Harassment in Science Act of 2019, has recently passed Congress and is on its way to the first Senate committee.
This bill seeks to fund research through the National Science Foundation and examine efforts to prevent and respond to sexual harassment . Additionally, this bill would bring together a coalition of partners that include the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine as well as the National Science and Technology Council. The hope is that a uniform set of policy guidelines will be developed in an effort to support and encourage more women in the STEM fields.
In the area of gender equity much work remains and we cannot rest on our laurels. Purposeful actions like this proposed legislation will bring insight in addressing this important issue. Ask your representative to support this bill, and imagine what is possible when everyone is sitting at the table of STEM innovation.
Aileen Rizo of Fresno is a wife, mother of three daughters, and STEM educator.