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Title IX Celebrates 50 Years of Promoting Gender Equality, Sexual Assault Protections

By June 23, 2022February 15th, 2024Legal 101

By: Irene Lax, Senior Counsel in Grant & Eisenhofer’s Civil Rights Practice Group

“No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.”

A mere thirty-seven words long, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (“Title IX” or the “Act”) has powerfully impacted change across many areas in its half-century long tenure as active legislation.  Enacted on June 23, 1972, today marks the 50th Anniversary of this important statute — a law that explicitly prohibits discrimination in any education program or activity that receives federal funding.

A landmark and historic piece of civil rights legislation, Title IX has been a driving force for developments in gender equality, women’s sports, education, and college admission, and also in addressing sexual assault on college and university campuses, among other areas. 

Although not exclusively applicable to women, since its enactment, the Act has had a notable impact on women’s rights and their ability to legally combat inequity in the education context.  Historically, Title IX was principally known for its impact on women’s involvement in educational athletics programs due to the recognized use of and applicability of the Act in the handling of allegations of discrimination in women’s sports.  Title IX required educational institutions to provide equal resources and opportunities to women’s sports teams, as compared to male sports teams, which further facilitated a rise in the number of women who participated in athletic programs at educational institutions.  Today almost 3 million women participate in higher education and high school sports programs. 

Since its passage, the Act’s applicability has been significantly broadened to many other forms of discrimination based not only on sex, but further including discrimination based on sexual orientation and identity, sexual harassment and assault, and protection for pregnant students.

Today the Act is a well-known vehicle to address many forms of discrimination in education, with particular focus on combating discrimination at higher education institutions.   For example, by way of a 2021 Executive Order, the Biden Administration confirmed that Title IX precludes discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, thereby ensuring that members of the LGBTQ+ community similarly have access to equal resources and opportunities in educational settings.

Title IX has also had a significant impact in bringing light to and combating sexual misconduct on university and college campuses.  Higher education institutions that receive federal funding are required to adhere to Title IX, which provides a mechanism for the proper handling of complaints of sexual misconduct, including sexual harassment and assault, that occur on a university or college campus or areas that the institution controls.  Many higher education institutions have a dedicated Title IX Office and/or other dedicated staff to handle Title IX sexual misconduct claims, such as college rape, dating violence on campus, and sexual assault incidents.  

50 years since Title IX’s historic passage evidences the significant developments it has spurred in combatting discrimination, including ensuring equal opportunities for women, members of the LBGTQ+ community, and minorities.  The ability to combat discrimination in educational settings has broad reaching effects beyond the educational context itself, like, for example, increasing the number of women in science, technology, engineering, and math fields, and bringing to light the pervasiveness of sexual assault and misconduct across college and university campuses, typically against female students.

Ways You Can Celebrate Title IX

On this momentous milestone birthday, here are some ways you can advocate for and appreciate the developments of Title IX:

  • Understand its History: An exhibition on view at the New York Historical Society, “Title IX: Activism On and Off the Field,” displays the controversy surrounding the progress of the act and the ways it has impacted the courts, college campuses, sports, and the classroom. One of the key sections of the exhibit features awareness around sexual assault on campuses and how Title IX is being used to fight for survivors. 
  • Tune in to Title IX Programming: ESPN is broadcasting and streaming content all month-long, across a wide variety of topics.
  • Learn About Title IX Advancements: INSIGHT Into Diversity offers a timeline detailing key advancements in Title IX.
  • Educate Yourself: Last year, the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights compiled a FAQ guide on Title IX regulations on sexual harassment that may be helpful for anyone curious about these regulations, or who is a survivor of sexual assault on campus and doesn’t know what to do to report it. In June 2022, the Biden administration is expected to issue revisions to how schools, colleges, and universities respond to Title IX sexual misconduct, which may change the way the law is interpreted. 

Irene Lax is Senior Counsel at Grant & Eisenhofer, focusing her practice on civil rights litigation. Ms. Lax is a vigorous advocate for survivors of sexual assault and victims of discrimination, wrongful incarceration, and other forms of harassment.  Ms. Lax also litigates Title IX sexual assault actions and matters related to federal detention reform.  Ms. Lax earned her J.D. from Temple University Beasley School of Law in 2012 where she was an Editor of the Temple Law Review and President of the Phillip C. Jessup International Law Moot Court team. Ms. Lax received a joint honors B.A. in political science and international development studies from McGill University in Montreal, Quebec in 2009. Upon graduating from law school, Ms. Lax served as law clerk for the Honorable Carolyn Berger, Supreme Court of the State of Delaware, from 2012-2013.  In 2021, Ms. Lax was selected for inclusion to Super Lawyers’ list of Rising Stars for Civil Rights Litigation, New York Metro region.