A SYTYCB entry
Title IX has given us plenty to cheer about this year. Enacted in 1972 as an amendment to the Higher Education Act of 1965, Title IX mandates that educational institutions and activities receiving federal funding may not discriminate on the basis of sex. The amendment is most well known for its impact on women’s sports. Lady-athletes were once thought of as strange and deviant, but Title IX helped skyrocket women in sports to a new level of training and respect. It’s by far the biggest success of Title IX, and often the only thing the amendment is known for.
Fighting sexual harassment in schools is one of Title IX’s lesser-known areas of impact. All publically funded educational institutions are required to have a Title IX Coordinator on staff that is trained to handle student reports of sexual harassment, including harassment from students, teachers and staff.
If this doesn’t sound like a familiar scenario from your school days, you’re not alone. The overwhelming majority New York City public schools do not have Title IX Coordinators, and many have never even heard of the legally required position*. Some schools argue that such a position is unnecessary; sexual harassment does not happen at their schools.
Except that it definitely does.
Earlier this year, the American Association of University Women released a report on sexual harassment in schools nationwide, and the results are troubling. Nearly half of the students in the study say they have experienced sexual harassment at school. More girls (56%) experienced harassment than boys (40%), but the difference is smaller than you might expect. The harassment reported by the students ranged from rude jokes, naming calling and “being called gay or lesbian in a negative way,” to unwanted touching and sexual assault. Perhaps most disturbing was students’ reasoning: The number one rationale for sexually harassing a classmate was, “Its just part of school life”.
Buying their own uniforms and hiding their athletic accomplishments used to be “just part of school life” for female athletes until Title IX and a country of sport-loving ladies made it illegal. Title IX rolled out during the height of the women’s movement, in a culture with a profound love of sports. It makes sense that athletic women would be driven and able to succeed when the floodgates finally opened – the culture was primed for it.
We aren’t yet primed to end sexual harassment. We are still a culture of victim blaming, street harassment, glass ceilings, body shaming, domestic violence, Chik-fil-A, Clarence Thomas and sold-out Charlie Sheen tours. It makes sense that sexual harassment is a problem in schools because it is a very big problem outside of them.
Eliminating sexual harassment in schools means changing our culture to one that fully values and supports the presence and lived experience of women and LGBTQ persons. It takes persistence, creativity, dedication, and lots and lots of time. While I’d love to see a PSA about the importance of all parts of Title IX staring Gabby Douglas and Kerry Walsh Jennings (and perhaps some dude athletes as well!), I don’t know if that is what it takes to change the hearts and minds of a culture. So I’m asking you:
What experiences have you had that changed your worldview? How can we apply that toward shifting individuals’ and society’s views about sexual harassment?
*Based on unpublished research by Girls for Gender Equity.