Title IX at 40: Opening doors to academics, opportunity and … fencing?

Melody Ng
Public Insight Network

Title IX turns 40 next week!

Over the past two weeks, I’ve been asking women about the opportunities they’ve had in their lives as compared to those of their mothers and daughters (Here’s our survey: Are you better off than your mother?). It’s made me keenly aware of two facts: The landmark legislation is the same age as I am, and — embarrassingly — I didn’t know or hear anything about it until I was in graduate school in the mid-1990s.

Undoubtedly, I’ve benefited from Title IX, which mandates that men and women, boys and girls, be given equal opportunities in academic and extracurricular programs (sports, for instance, has become the program that Americans most associate with the legislation) in schools that receive federal funding.

I have never been discriminated against academically because I am female. On the contrary, I’ve had more academic opportunities than I could take advantage of — and I ran (however poorly) on the track and cross-country teams in high school.

Perhaps I can’t think of a time someone talked with me about Title IX because by the time I was old enough to remember or understand, many of the legislation’s major tenets were already the norm.

For Diane Goldberg, the executive director of a nonprofit organization in Denver — and a few years my senior — Title IX was reality. She entered Columbia University in 1983.

Diane Goldberg is the executive director of a non-profit in Denver. She entered Columbia University in 1983, just after the school implemented coeducation.

Diane Goldberg (Photo courtesy of Diane Goldberg)

I was able to attend an Ivy League college that was, prior to the year I started, not open to women. … Because it had just opened its doors to women, all the sports coaches were desperate to recruit women to their teams, so they didn’t lose their Title IX funding. Registration for classes was a scene of pure chaos, with coaches vying for each woman’s attention, begging and pleading with her to join a team.

As a result, I ended up on the fencing team (fencing??) despite my total lack of athletic ability and complete inexperience with the sport. It turned out to be a great experience (more so for me than for the team, to be sure), and well worth the humiliation of being chased down the strip by my opponent, coaches from both sides yelling and shaking their heads in dismay.

She also had a vastly different experience in law school than her aunt did:

I attended law school in an era when there are as many women attending law school as men, and plenty of female support and role models in both the school and in the work settings following graduation.

By way of contrast, my aunt (my mother’s twin sister) went to law school when she was 40. There were only a handful of other women in the class.

When she applied, she was called in for a personal interview by the dean, and asked how she intended to pay for her law school education. She asked him if he’d asked any of the male applicants the same question.

She also told me that they had “Ladies’ Day,” in which the women were made to stand at the front of the lecture hall and bombarded with questions – likely in the hopes of humiliating them.

We’ve heard from women young and old about opportunities – ones they’ve fought for, ones that have passed them by because of their sex and ones that, thanks to Title IX, they were able to seize.

How about you? Please share your story here.



Melody Ng Analyst
Public Insight Network

As a Public Insight analyst, Melody Ng's job is all about finding out what people know, and then putting their experience and expertise to work making great news stories. She's particularly interested in getting diverse perspectives and voices into the news. So if you don’t hear people who think or sound like you in the news, then: Tell us what you know here. And come on into our newsroom!

Melody got into journalism through an internship with documentary unit American RadioWorks when looking for a different way to use the skills she had learned through doing science.