Title IX Turns 45

June 19, 2017

Forty-five years ago, 37 simple words changed the future for women across the nation.

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 educational program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.

This Friday marks the 45th anniversary of Title IX, the section of the Education Amendments signed into law on June 23, 1972. It has opened doors to educational opportunities for girls and women of all ages across the nation — from earning doctorates, to ensuring opportunities for pregnant women and mothers, to providing scholarships to female athletes. The last part, of course, is the portion often synonymous with the legislation’s title.

It’s not difficult for me to realize the impact Title IX has had on my own life. I was an athlete all the way growing up, presented with limitless opportunities that were once a privilege for few, and working toward my sport management minor, my classes outlined ways the law has been implemented across the nation. I didn’t know until recently, however, that I likely wouldn’t be here today if it hadn’t been for Title IX.

See, my mom was one of the first three female gymnasts to receive a full athletic scholarship at the University of Minnesota. Though Title IX was signed into law in 1972, its standards weren’t enforced until the winter of 1978 — the year my mom was a freshman and given her full ride. If the U hadn’t been pushed to implement the new standards, she likely would have accepted a scholarship elsewhere… and therefore never met my dad. I asked her to tell me a bit more about her experience being recruited as a woman in an era when female athletes were just starting to receive recognition.

How did Title IX affect you directly?

Title IX gave me the ability to compete near home at the University of Minnesota. I had received scholarship offers from a number of other schools like Louisville, Nebraska, Kansas, and all of them had been giving full scholarships to female athletes for a number of years.

The year I was recruited, 1978, was the very first year the University of Minnesota had given out full athletic scholarships to female gymnasts. Growing up in Shakopee, I wanted to stay near home, so I was really lucky that Title IX was enforced the year it was, otherwise I would have accepted a different offer and been away from family.

Did you realize what a big deal your scholarship offers were at the time?

At the time, I don’t think I realized how rare women’s scholarships were. I remember my mom going to my high school counselor and asking him to help find more colleges that would be a good fit for me to compete at. He point-blank told her, “There is no such thing as a scholarship for girls,” and this was after seven schools had already offered me money. I think people just weren’t aware of the opportunities, especially since it took a number of years for Title IX to kick in.

Do you think you were treated differently because of your women’s athletic scholarship?

I felt like we were treated equally to the male athletes. There were some things the football, basketball and hockey teams got that we didn’t, like tutors and big steak meals — neither of which we on the gymnastics team wanted anyway. At the time, the NCAA wasn’t sponsoring women’s sports, so we were part of the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW).

I think I personally felt a bigger impact on our team because of the new shift to scholarship athletes. Considering it was the first year of female scholarships and there were three of us with full rides added to the gymnastics roster, there was a little bit of drama. It pushed some seniors out who were no longer able to travel or compete, and on top of that there was the notion that we were being “paid.” I think it just was a slightly different dynamic that the team had to adjust to.

My mom went on be one of the most successful gymnasts in Gopher history. She was a two-time All-American, Big Ten Champion on beam, held the school and Big Ten record on the balance beam upon her graduation, placed third in the balance beam and tenth in the all around at the AIAW National Championship and was inducted into the University of Minnesota “M” Club Hall of Fame — she doesn’t talk much about her accomplishments, so someone (usually my dad) has to do the bragging for her.

It’s hard to think of my mom without her athletic endeavors, not just because of the awards or titles that go along with her maiden name, but because of the incredible discipline and commitment she displayed through college athletics and has worked to instill in me and my brothers. Title IX gave my mom the opportunity to chase her dreams, gain a college education that her family may not have been able to otherwise afford and pass down her relentless attitude and belief in pursuing your passions to me. And for that, I’m grateful.