CALL US 24/7 AT 203-946-2000

Title IX & Student Conduct Code Blog

Duffy Law

The Impact of Title IX on Campus Culture: Successes and Room for Improvement

Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 has such an overwhelming impact on college campuses that it is difficult to imagine what campus culture would look like without this landmark legislation. A few simple words embedded in the U.S. Code have been expanded by regulations and embellished by interpretation to affect everything from academic hiring and enrollment to athletic fields and frat parties.

As a firm focused on protecting Title IX rights and opportunities, our team has celebrated the successes and fought to uphold the ground gained over the years. We work to strike a balance that protects the rights of all students, faculty, and staff under Title IX.

While the strides forward have been tremendous, many people believe the finish line for Title IX goals remains far ahead. They feel that opportunities are still not equal, and too many students on campus remain vulnerable. As we wait for the release of new rules that are expected to expand protections and opportunities for some, it is helpful to consider the impact of Title IX and see where there is room for improvement.

More Women on Campus

Women have outnumbered men on college campuses for some time now, and they have higher graduation rates as well. So it can be hard to remember that women were once excluded from higher education and were only seen on campus as secretaries. In 1973, just after the enactment of Title IX, 43% of women who graduated went on to attend college. By 1994, the number had increased by nearly 50% to 63%.

Before Title IX, women might not have been overtly banned from schools and programs, but systems were set in place to limit their participation and make it very difficult for them to succeed. Colleges often set higher standards for admission for women, requiring better grades and higher test scores for female applicants. Graduate programs in fields such as medicine and law set low numerical caps on admissions for women.

Females on campus were treated differently than men. Many campuses had separate entrances for women, and female students had curfews that did not apply to men. The few women who managed to obtain a position on faculty found it hard to gain tenure, and they were excluded from membership in faculty clubs, often encouraged to join the social clubs for faculty wives instead.

Today, while the scales have tipped in terms of enrollment, women still remain underrepresented in college faculty. Reports show that men hold nearly twice as many full professorship positions as well as the vast majority of tenure-track positions. Moreover, women in faculty positions leave at a higher rate than men and are more likely to do so because they feel “pushed” off-campus rather than “pulled” to new opportunities. Specifically, female faculty members cite their reasons for leaving as related to lack of support on campus, while male faculty members report that they were leaving to take advantage of better opportunities elsewhere. Campus culture is more welcoming to women than it was before the passage of Title IX, but we still seem to have a way to go to achieve equality in leadership positions on campus.

Female Athletes Gained Opportunities but Still Strive for Equality

The progress spurred by Title IX in women’s athletics has been one of the most noticeable effects because it was in that realm that many of the inequalities were visibly evident. Before Title IX, the facilities for women’s teams were not only inferior, they were often nonexistent. Programs and opportunities within those programs were available to a much greater extent for men than for women. Before the passage of Title IX, only 7% of high school girls participated in school sports programs. Today, participation is four to five times greater at both the high school and college levels. However, reports suggest that opportunities are still falling short for females at schools with an enrollment of predominantly people of color, where girls have only 67% of the opportunities open to boys. Even at predominantly white schools, girls still have nearly 20% fewer opportunities than boys to participate in sports.  

At the college level, the school’s compliance with Title IX objectives is generally judged by rates of participation in athletics, scholarships awarded for athletics, and operational support. While opportunities for female athletes have increased by over 600% since the passage of Title IX, the opportunities are not equal to those provided to male athletes, particularly with respect to varsity-level sports. In terms of the distribution of scholarship money, some data suggests that many Division I and II schools now actually favor women athletes, providing proportionately more funding based on participation rates than they do for male athletes. However, there are certainly many instances where scholarship funding is not proportionate, particularly in colleges and universities with football programs.

To assess operational support, evaluators generally look at the equality of a “laundry list” of benefits provided to student-athletes such as:

  • Equipment, uniforms, and supplies
  • Access to tutoring and academic support
  • Medical training facilities and staff
  • Support services
  • Scheduling of games and practice times
  • Assigned coaches
  • Publicity
  • Travel and daily per diem allowances
  • Locker rooms
  • Practice and competitive facilities
  • Recruitment efforts

While these areas of operational support have improved substantially since the implementation of Title IX, inequalities are still evident in studies and anecdotal evidence. Athletes are still successfully bringing lawsuits against colleges and universities, demonstrating inequalities in female sports programs and alleging that schools are illegally retaliating against them for trying to bring these inequalities to light.

Campus Procedures for Dealing with Allegations of Discrimination and Sexual Assault

Over time, the focus of Title IX enforcement efforts has shifted from academic and athletic opportunities to environmental quality and ensuring safety on campus. Schools are now required to provide support for students who have suffered from incidents of sexual assault and to provide opportunities for accusations to be investigated and adjudicated. Incidents of wrongdoing that were once overlooked or hushed up on campus are now given serious consideration, igniting a legal process that cannot be stopped once set in motion.

However, evidence suggests that only about 10% or fewer of those subjected to sexual assault on campus take advantage of the process to file a formal complaint. The reasons for the unwillingness to report incidents could stem from many sources, but regardless of the reason, it is hard to hold wrongdoers accountable if their actions are allowed to continue without redress. While Title IX regulations and recommendations give multiple examples of conduct that is not permissible, and schools are supposed to provide training and education to help prevent all forms of sexual discrimination, harassment, and abuse, psychologists have suggested that there still seems to be a sense that it is not worth reporting a transgression unless it is extremely severe. This sense comes from both the students victimized by wrongful behavior and decisions reached through campus adjudications. This suggests that even more education is necessary for students, faculty and staff. Everyone should clearly understand when behavior crosses the line and becomes unacceptable and how to report incidents when they happen.

At the same time, it is also important to maintain a presumption of innocence in campus proceedings and strike the right balance between protecting the rights of both complainants and respondents.

Gender Identification and Sexual Orientation Protections

The most recent controversial applications of Title IX protections concern issues of sexual orientation and gender identity—issues not widely considered at the time the statute was originally enacted. With regard to investigating and adjudicating incidents of harassment and assault, few people would disagree with a student or faculty member’s right to protection from abuse. However, when it comes to opportunities to participate in athletics, sexual orientation issues make some people uncomfortable, and gender identity issues raise huge flames of contention. On the one hand, the Department of Education has stated that Title IX prohibits schools from discriminating on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation and these protections are expected to be enshrined in the regulations shortly. On the other hand, critics argue that allowing athletes who formerly competed as males to compete in female athletic programs undermines all the goals that Title IX was meant to achieve.

Continued Vigilance Will Bring Continued Progress on Title IX Challenges

Researchers have suggested that Title IX is enforced in three primary ways—through self-audits on campus, through complaints filed with the U.S. Department of Education, and through lawsuits. Two of the three methods require vigilant participation by students, faculty, and staff who observe wrongful or inequitable behavior and who step up to take legal action to bring about changes.

At Duffy Law, we are proud to work together with those who seek to enforce Title IX rights and protections to help move educational opportunities one step closer to the finish line. We look back on achievements of the past to give us hope as we prepare to address the challenges of the future. If you have questions about enforcing your rights as a complainant or respondent, we invite you to schedule a confidential consultation.

Felice Duffy

author bio profile image

Attorney At Duffy Law

Attorney Felice Duffy served as an Assistant United States Attorney for ten years after beginning her legal career at two prestigious firms (one in CT and one in NY) and then clerking for two federal judges. A life-long Title IX advocate, she brought a legal action under the then-new Title IX statute against UCONN while an undergraduate to compel the creation of its women’s varsity soccer program. She went on to become a first-team Division I All-American, was selected to be on the first U.S. National Women’s Team, and spent 10 years as Head Coach of the Yale women's soccer team. Attorney Duffy has Ph.D. in Education/Sports Psychology and has spoken to, and conducted trainings for, over 50 schools and organizations on a wide range of topics involving athletics, the law, and social justice. You can reach Felice at (203) 946-2000.