Women’s soccer standouts Brandi Chastain and Mia Hamm, along with Olympic gymnast Dominique Dawes and swimmer Nancy Hogshead Makar, joined members of Congress in Washington, D.C. Monday to voice their support for the landmark gender-equality law, Title IX.
Organized in response to proposed changes to Title IX, the bipartisan hearing was the result of the joint efforts of Connecticut Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro and New York Congresswoman Louise Slaughter.
“This hearing highlights the importance of protecting this milestone legislation for women’s equity,” DeLauro said in a press release. “Title IX has afforded many women and girls their rightful opportunity to participate in athletics, and I am committed to preserving it.”
Since 1972, Title IX has prohibited gender discrimination in federally funded education programs. The law has effected vast changes in the area of collegiate athletics by requiring that the percentage of male and female athletes be comparable to the ratio of male and female enrollment.
But in response to increased criticism of Title IX, a Commission on Opportunity in Athletics was created to investigate recommended alterations to the 30-year-old law. Despite a deadlock, the Commission’s final report ultimately included a recommendation that would change Title IX’s regulation that percentages of athletes must correlate with enrollment figures. The alteration would allow schools to contribute as little as 43 percent of athletic scholarships to women without violating the law.
While Education Secretary Rod Paige reviews the Commission’s recommendations, DeLauro and other supporters of Title IX have been swift to rally opposition. In addition to organizing yesterday’s hearing, DeLauro and Slaughter have introduced a resolution in Congress objecting to the Commission’s proposed changes.
DeLauro’s press release expressed her concern that the suggested changes would give Paige a “‘blank check’ to change the enforcement policies’” of Title IX.
“I think that the overall sentiment that was conveyed today was: It’s not broken, we don’t need to fix it,” said Lesley Sillaman, spokeswoman for DeLauro. “[The legislators] got a great perspective from the female athletes.”
Sillaman said Paige was invited to the hearing, but was not present yesterday.
Yale women’s ice hockey player Rory Neuner ’03 credits her success, in part, to Title IX. Neuner said she was pleased with the efforts of DeLauro and the others present at the hearing.
“There is still a lot of ground to be covered at other schools,” she said. “Things aren’t quite equal.”
According to DeLauro’s office, women’s collegiate participation in athletics has increased by 403 percent since the legislation was first enacted in 1972.
But objections to Title IX have originated primarily from supporters of men’s athletics, who claim that smaller men’s sports teams have suffered because of a shift of resources to female teams.
The Yale Wrestling Association, along with the National Wrestling Coaches Association and other related groups, is currently suing the U.S. Department of Education over the Title IX legislation. Twelve years ago, Yale’s wrestling team lost its varsity status due in part to Yale’s compliance with Title IX.
But although these claims figure into the current debate over Title IX, no male athletes were present at yesterday’s hearing.
“If there’s no insight from someone on the opposite side, [the hearing] carries a bias with it,” wrestling club co-captain Vincent Panzano ’04 said. “I feel there should be some way to allow women to participate in sports without reducing opportunities for men.”