There is still much to be done to fulfill the work begun by Patsy Mink.
We are in the 50th year since the passage of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, enacted on June 23. This year we celebrate its passage as the very foundation of equal access to education.
The federal law prohibits sex discrimination in education. It covers women and men, girls and boys, staff and students in any educational institution or program that receives federal funds.
This milestone is of particular significance for Hawaii as its co-author was our own Patsy T. Mink, whose strength of spirit and warrior’s heart reverberates still throughout our public education system, continuing to unlock closed doors for women and girls across our democracy.
U.S. Rep. Mink did not start out to be a politician. She originally wanted to be a doctor.
But when she discovered that of the 12 medical schools to which she applied none would accept her, she took a different path. She went to law school, from there turned to politics, eventually becoming the first Asian-American women to serve in Congress and the first woman to represent the state of Hawaii.
In 2002, the year of her death, Title IX was renamed the Patsy T. Mink Equal Opportunity Education Act, and in 2014 President Barrack Obama posthumously awarded her the Medal of Freedom.
To continue the work that she began is one of the central imperatives of the American Association of University Women. Although we have come far in 50 years, there is still much work to be done to fulfill its promise.
First, let’s understand what Title IX is and what it is not. While Title IX is associated with equal opportunity in sports that is only one aspect of the law.
The broad intention of the law was to prevent sex discrimination in every area of public education, including the following: hiring and promoting teachers and professors; recruitment, admissions and housing; career and technical education; pregnant, parenting and/or married students; science, technology, engineering and math (STEM); comparable facilities and access to course offerings; financial assistance; student health services and insurance benefits; harassment based on gender identity; and, most notable in recent years, sexual harassment and assault.
While great strides have been made for women and girls in the area of sports, young women and girls still are second- or third-class citizens when it come to funding, particularly in facilities. Girls have 1.2 million fewer chances to play sports in high school than boys. Less than two-thirds of African American and Hispanic girls play sports, while more than three-quarters of white girls do.
In Hawaii, in spite of a successful lawsuit by the ACLU against Maui’s Baldwin High over the use of the school’s softball practice fields, the state Department of Education continues to fail to comply with Title IX for their female athletes.
In 2018 the ACLU again filed suit against the DOE for failing to address the glaring disparity in locker room use at Campbell High School and for the preferential treatment of boys over girls in selection of coaches, travel opportunities, as well as promotion and marketing.
In the area of STEM, AAUW has found that just 12% of engineers are women, and the number of women in computing fell from 35% in 1990 to just 26% in 2015. This is a direct result of girls and women being systematically tracked away from science and math throughout their education, limiting their access, preparation and opportunities to go into these fields as adults.
Although strides are being made in Hawaii, in the STEM academies and schools within our public school system most notably, a large gap still exists in access and promotion of the STEM fields for women and girls.
But what is the most tragic outcome of a lack of enforcement of Title IX is the widespread sex harassment and sex assault in our public schools and universities. AAUW’s research revealed that two-thirds of college students experience sexual harassment.
Studies have also found that around 20% of women college students are targets of attempted or completed sexual assault. Additionally, AAUW research found that 56% of girls and 40% of boys in grades 7-12 face sexual harassment.
Two college students, Annie E. Clark and Andrea Pino, publicly disclosed the grim reality of how rape victims are treated on campuses across the U.S. These two former University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill students filed a Title IX complaint against UNC for its response to their rapes while enrolled at the school.
Their battle resulted in the use of Title IX in campus sexual assault cases and subsequently became a model for universities across the country. Their battle is documented in the ground-breaking film “The Hunting Ground” in 2018.
Widespread sex harassment and sex assault continues in our public schools and universities.
Under the Obama administration many universities were audited for their lack of compliance with this aspect of Title IX. The University of Hawaii was among them. The end result was the creation of a separate Title IX and Office of Institutional Equity that reports directly to the university president.
In a 2019 climate survey, 12.7% of students say they experienced stalking or sexual harassment and 7.2% reported non-consensual sexual contact. These numbers represent an increase over the 2017 survey.
This is particularly troubling in that some of these incidents involved the coercive control of professors over students, including threats to the theses of doctoral candidates.
AAUW of Hawaii is committed to the implementation and enforcement of a state level Title IX to insure that no change of political winds in Washington will leave Hawaii’s women and girls at risk.
In the upcoming legislative session the following bills are of note: a state Title IX bill that would a) codify a version of the Obama administration’s Title IX regulations for schools which receive state funding; and b) mandate data reporting on gender discrimination, gender-based harassment and assault cases from schools which receive state funding; and a campus safety bill that would strengthen campus safety and accountability procedures and protocols, including those relating to sexual harassment, sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence, stalking, and related issues, at the University of Hawaii. It would also take steps to extend those procedures and protocols to private institutions of higher education in Hawaii.
Specifics would include:
raising awareness of the existence and function of confidential advocates;
trauma-informed training of school staff;
a memorandum of understanding between schools and community domestic violence and sex assault organizations;
no retaliation for reporting; and
opening a pathway for private schools to address campus safety issues.
In this 50th year of the Patsy T. Mink Title IX Act we owe it to the women and girls of Hawaii, to the ohana that is our state and to future generations to fulfill the promise of full and equal access to quality education.