Courtesy of Rora Brodwin

Last spring, Rora Brodwin ’18 brought the story of her first cousin twice removed — whom she calls her great aunt — to life in the Hopper Cabaret. This March, she will do the same in New York City’s Dixon Place theater, a space with twice the occupancy of her original venue.

Brodwin wrote the one-person play, titled “Bunny, Godmother of Title IX,” for her senior thesis in American Studies. In selecting a topic, she asked herself, “What stories do I tell others and others tell me about women that I hold in my heart?” The question led her to rediscover the story of her great aunt Bernice “Bunny” Sandler, who is widely credited as the “Godmother of Title IX.”

“The story is about Bunny finding power within herself and redefining what it means for her to be a woman in America,” Brodwin explained.

After the University of Maryland denied Sandler a full time teaching position in 1969 and cited reasons that alluded or directly referred to her sex, she discovered legal grounding to challenge her job denial in a footnote of a U.S. Commission on Civil Rights report. She did not consider herself a feminist at the time but soon spearheaded a class-action complaint against U.S. colleges and universities. The lawsuit set the foundation for what would become Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which banned sex discrimination in all aspects of education.

Brodwin said that she grew up with vague knowledge of Sandler’s impact but did not fully understand the story until researching for her senior project, a process that included interviewing Sandler herself. Brodwin said that there were several aspects of the script particularly relevant to or even rooted at Yale. She noted “a strong history of good things and bad things relating to Title IX at Yale” and explained that the second campus showing of “Bunny, Godmother of Title IX” occurred a week after the Kavanaugh hearing this past fall.

In a comment to Brodwin for public use, Stephanie Spangler, Yale Title IX coordinator, described the play as “a unique and compelling perspective on the origins of Title IX that adds meaning to our work.”

Brodwin is excited to share the story on a greater scale in New York City. She noted that since its inception, Title IX has only increased in relevance on college campuses. Today, it is applied to sex discrimination in student activities as well as to cases of campus sexual misconduct. Brodwin pointed to the recent lawsuit filed by Anna McNeil ’20, Eliana Singer ’21 and Ry Walker ’20 against Yale and nine campus fraternities under Title IX as evidence of Title IX’s pertinence to this day.

“It’s never been more important for people to know where this comes from as we figure out where it’s going to go next,” Brodwin said. “We haven’t even envisioned what Title IX might do to protect people because our blinders are still on to so many injustices and inequalities.”

Several members of the original production’s crew remained onboard for the show’s move to New York. Brodwin will still play the role of Bunny. Though based in New York, Broadwin travels to New Haven to rehearse with director Elise Morrison, a theater studies professor at Yale. Crew members include set designer Adam Thompson ’20, costume designer Payson Whitwell ’20 and props designer Awa Franklin ’19. Joining the team are a New York-based producer, lighting director, assistant producer and assistant stage manager.

Brodwin also hopes to bring her show to college campuses. She worked with the Yale Title IX coordinators and Aley Menon, secretary of the University-Wide Committee on Sexual Misconduct, to show the play at a training event this fall. Menon said that the performance offered a unique perspective to the training event.

“For those of us who do the work around Title IX, understanding its origins helps us understand the underpinnings of the work” Menon explained. “Bunny’s story started 50 years ago, and to watch the arc of what happened to Title IX since those humble beginnings is pretty extraordinary.”

Yet, one key character is missing this time around. Bunny Sandler passed away in January of this year at the age of 90. While she will not see Brodwin’s New York debut, Sandler watched a video recording of a Yale production prior to her passing. According to Brodwin, Sandler’s response was simple.

“Did you get an A?” Brodwin recalled her saying. “I hope you got an A on this.”

“Bunny, Godmother of Title IX” will take place on March 14 on the Dixon Place theater mainstage.

Lindsay Daugherty | lindsay.daugherty@yale.edu