Athletics News

Empowering Women Athletes

April 20, 2010

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Vice President Joe Biden and Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced Tuesday at The George Washington University that the U.S. Department of Education will no longer allow universities to rely solely on student surveys to prove that they are fully meeting the athletic interests and abilities of women on campus.

"We need to make sure that every woman has the same opportunity as every man," said Vice President Biden in a speech at GW's Charles E. Smith Center. "It's not just being nice. It's being practical."

Title IX, which became law in 1972, bars gender discrimination by educational institutions that receive federal funds. Universities have three ways to prove they are complying with the law: show that the number of female athletes is proportionate to the total number of female students enrolled; have a history of increasing sports for women; or prove that they are meeting the athletic interests and abilities of women on campus.

In 2005, under the Bush administration, the Office of Civil Rights amended the law by allowing universities to ask female students about their athletic interests. Those who did not respond to the survey were allowed to be counted as "not interested."

"That presumed that women don't care about athletics, and it's almost patronizing. Women shouldn't have to prove they are interested in sports. It should be assumed from the get-go," said Bonnie Morris, a GW adjunct professor of women's studies, who has taught an "Athletics and Gender" course for over 14 years.

While universities will still be able to use surveys to gauge their students' interests, they will be required to also show they are meeting students' interests in other ways, such as participation in club sports and tracking athletic trends at feeder high schools.

"Making Title IX as strong as possible is a no-brainer," said Vice President Biden. "What we're doing here today will better ensure equal opportunity in athletics, and allow women to realize their potential -- so this nation can realize its potential."

In 1972, less than 30,000 female student athletes participated in college sports, compared to 170,000 males. By 2007, the number of female student athletes had risen to 176,000, compared to 240,261 males.

"There is no doubt that Title IX has dramatically increased athletic, academic and employment opportunities for women and girls, and educational institutions have made big strides in providing equal opportunities in sports," said Secretary Duncan. "Yet discrimination continues to exist in college athletic programs--and we should be vigilant in enforcing the law and protecting this important civil right."

Tanya Vogel, a former GW soccer player and now the team's coach, said the participation rates in women's sports have skyrocketed in the last 15 years.

"What Title IX has done for young women in this country is amazing," she said.

Secretary Duncan said student athletes learn valuable lessons on the court and on the playing field like teamwork, commitment, courage and discipline. Women who participate in sports are more likely to graduate from college and have a higher paying job then those who don't, said Secretary Duncan. Furthermore, female athletes are less likely to use drugs, face teen pregnancy or become obese than their peers.

In 1975, the women's athletic department at GW was created with seven sports. Today, there are 12 women's teams and 10 men's teams. About 51 percent of athletic scholarships are awarded to female athletes.

"I think GW has been a leader for women's sports," said Ms. Vogel.

Vice President Biden said he hopes that in 40 years Title IX will no longer be needed.

"Because if we still need Title IX, we will have failed," he said. "But if we can open up opportunities for women, we literally can change the world."