Jennie Kiesling ’78 stood at attention in Physical Education Director Joni Barnett’s office on March 3, 1976, with a message to bare: “We want a locker room.”
Kiesling, along with 19 of her teammates, wrote “Title IX” across their chests and backs and disrobed completely to protest the lack of adequate facilities for the Yale Women’s crew team.
Title IX, the landmark federal legislation that requires institutions like Yale to provide equal facilities for male and female athletes, celebrated its 30th birthday this year. Aside from scattered national newspaper features acknowledging the law that mandates gender equity in sports, there were few signs that anyone at Yale remembered the historic moment in women’s history.
For those at Yale most directly affected by the law — women’s varsity, club and intramural teams, their coaches and their athletes — the issue is far from forgotten, however. As Title IX’s legitimacy is questioned in colleges across the nation with the elimination of certain men’s sports and the desperate attempt to create new women’s teams, those affiliated with women’s sports at Yale agree that the laws have made a difference on campus, and that even today, with a reassessment process for the legislation pending, there are still improvements to be made.
The start of a revolution
The watershed law was signed into the Education Amendments in 1972, but its wording was still too broad to make it enforceable. The original law stated that no individual should be discriminated against or denied any opportunity on the basis of his or her sex. It was not until seven years later, in 1979, that the Department of Health, Education and Welfare established the three-pronged criterion that comprises what Title IX is generally used for today — athletic programs.
To be in compliance with Title IX, a school must meet three standards. Foremost, the provision of financial assistance to athletes must be equal. Opportunities for male and female athletes have to meet interest and abilities. This can be met by possessing one of three things: quantity of opportunities in proportion to their enrollment, a commitment to ensuring that an equal number of teams for both sexes exist, or proof that the demand for teams in the under-represented gender has been fully satisfied. Finally, all other benefits and equipment must be equivalent for both genders. The evaluation is done on a program-wide basis, as opposed to sport by sport. Debates over the wording of Title IX kept the legislation from being fully effective for about 20 years.
The more stringent enforcement of Title IX during the last 10 years has led to a growing controversy in courts and in schools themselves. Various lawsuits against schools across the country have made Title IX a slow-moving, 10-year debate that is quickly turning into a national issue.
At Yale, Kiesling and her teammates were some of the first women to use the law in their favor to gain equality.
In the midst of a successful season, replete with two members training for the Olympics, the women’s crew team was housed in a trailer that had yet to be hooked up to a sewer system. While they waited for the men’s team to finish with their hot showers, Chris Ernst ’76 and Anne Warner ’77 came up with the idea to bring buckets of water and sponges to Barnett’s office and shower there.
“If she won’t give us one, we’ll do it there,” Kiesling remembers her teammates saying.
From there, the idea to go to the office stark naked with “Title IX” emblazoned on their bodies and read a statement of their concerns followed.
“On a day like today the ice freezes on this skin,” the statement said. “Then we sit for half an hour on the bus as the ice melts and soaks through our suits to meet the sweat that’s soaking us from the inside. We sit for half an hour with the chills … half a dozen of us are sick now.”
Beyond the simple inadequacies of their facilities, Kiesling said they were just tired of being insulted.
The New York Times reported the story, and soon after — within a year, current women’s crew coach Will Porter said — a new addition was built on the boathouse with a boatbay and locker room for the women’s crew team.
In the context of Yale’s history, the scope of Title IX has traveled beyond athletics. In the 1979 case Alexander v. Yale, five female plaintiffs took Yale to court for refusing to take their claims of sexual harassment by faculty members seriously — and won. Consequently, Yale established its sexual harassment claims procedure, which is still in use today.
Leaps and bounds
The impact Title IX has had on colleges throughout the country is undeniable. As Porter put it, “the law is doing amazing things for women’s rowing across the country,” and the women who marched into the assistant athletic director’s office years ago “set a precedent of strong-minded and independent women who comprise the team.” Whereas 30 years ago, women’s rowing was an underfunded Ivy sport, it is now an NCAA Division I program that boasts over 90 participants.
The current status of women’s rowing at Yale attests to the influence of Title IX in colleges across the country. Because schools have had to develop women’s rowing programs to offset their largely populated football teams, there has been an overall increase in interest and competition within the sport, providing a larger number of athletes for Yale’s team. Commitments other colleges have made to scholarship and recruiting policies have a ripple effect in the recruiting process at Yale, making them comparable with those of other sports.
At present, Porter said he is satisfied with the strides the rowing team has made.
“Right now, I feel as though women’s rowing at Yale is equal to men’s — the endowment and association for rowing are very strong,” Porter said. “Decisions are made right down the middle. We order the same equipment for both teams, the locker room is split exactly.”
But there are also those that feel as though Yale is not entirely in compliance with Title IX. Although the women’s crew team is satisfied with the university’s efforts to equalize the playing field, many other women’s teams feel as though they are suffering from an inadequate budget. Rory Neuner ’03, a varsity hockey player who recently initiated a meeting at the Women’s Center to discuss the inequity, came with research. According to Yale’s published figures for the 2000-2001 school year, the amount of money spent on women’s sports is far lower than that spent on men’s. Even without football, there is a significant $106,377 difference between the amount of money spent on men and women’s athletic teams. Factor in the football figure and that number leaps to almost a million dollars — a $981,556 difference.
Dissatisfied athletes say this funding gap shows. Aside from receiving substantially less publicity and coverage for their games, Neuner said the women’s hockey team sees less “quickness in the arrival of their equipment,” and gets less attention from the trainers.
Barbara Chesler, associate director of varsity sports, said she felt the situation was different.
“I couldn’t be prouder to work at this establishment,” she said. “Yale has a strong commitment to providing a broad-based athletic program for both men and women.”
Her description of the athletic program’s philosophy is that “all athletes, no matter what uniform, should be treated the same and get what they need.” Chesler explained that the difference in basic equipment cost is the reason for the discrepancy between the money spent on men’s and women’s sports at Yale. She added that basic equipment for football costs much more than basic equipment for other sports. Thus, although more money is being spent on football players, all Yale athletes are provided with what they need in order to participate equally in their sports.
Chesler said she encourages those students who feel they do not have adequate resources for their sport to come speak to her. She said she agreed that Title IX was a valuable piece of legislation in facilitating the integration of women in athletics at Yale. Since the days where women were actively fighting for equality in athletics, Yale has established 18 women’s varsity teams, as well as co-ed sailing, and has one of the largest collegiate athletic programs — for men and women — in the nation. But Chesler said she does not feel as though these changes would never have happened without Title IX, nor does she feel as though modifications to the current legislation would improve opportunities for female athletes at Yale.
Even if the reassessment procedure in Washington, D.C., changes the standards of compliance universities must meet, Chesler said she feels confident that Yale will continue its level of commitment to providing a wide range of men’s and women’s sports. n