In the Public Interest
I recently happened to catch a special on the 40th anniversary of Title IX, featuring an interview on national television with psychologist Dr. Bernice ("Bunny") Sandler, known as the "Godmother of Title IX." Witnessing her recognition for the critical role she played in ensuring the enactment of this monumental piece of legislation was extremely gratifying. It brought to mind the immense contributions that psychologists have made to gender equity in education, and how much more we can do. Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 is the federal statute that makes it illegal for any education program or activity that receives federal financial assistance to discriminate on the basis of sex. It addresses issues of access and admission to higher education, career and technical education, education for pregnant and parenting students, equity in math, science and technology education, sexual harassment and athletics.
Not only did Title IX help eliminate blatant discriminatory practices across educational institutions, but it was instrumental in rooting out subtler practices that hold women back because it closed the gap between men's and women's financial aid packages, improved housing opportunities for women students, and fought against sexual harassment. Thanks to Title IX, pregnant girls are no longer forced to leave school or required to attend less academically challenging programs, and teachers who are expecting no longer routinely lose their jobs when their pregnancies become outwardly evident.
Psychologists have continued to be involved in battles to achieve and ensure these rights. APA has played an important role through encouraging and disseminating research, its policy and advocacy, and by submitting influential amicus curiae briefs on relevant cases before the Supreme Court. The association also established its Women's Programs Office and Committee on Women in Psychology, which focused much of their work on addressing systems and structures that maintain discriminatory practices and have become a model for other professional associations.
One of the most well-known, and openly criticized, aspects of Title IX is the mandate that women and girls who participate in organized sports benefit from opportunities and resources equal to those provided to boys and men. The large number of women participating in the 2012 Olympics provides some evidence of the law's effectiveness. Psychologists and scholars from other disciplines have provided solid research on the positive impact organized sports has on girls who join at an early age. The Report of the APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls, noted that participation in physical activity may be one of girls' best means of resisting objectification and sexualization. It provides girls with opportunities to develop a self-concept founded on what they can do rather than on what they look like; it is related to increased self-esteem and to reducing girls' engagement in risky sexual behavior. Research also shows that girls and women who play sports get better grades, are more likely to graduate high school, are less likely to use drugs or smoke cigarettes, are less likely to become suicidal and less likely to become pregnant. (See AAUW.)
Psychological research and psychologists have been instrumental in efforts to end discrimination in education and in other facets of society. Two of the earliest and best known were Drs. Kenneth and Mamie Clark, well known for their experiments using dolls to study children's attitudes about race, who contributed to the ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education (1954), which determined that de jure racial segregation in public education was unconstitutional.
Other examples of psychological research can be found in the recent presidential task force report Dual Pathways to a Better America: Preventing Discrimination and Promoting Diversity.
Psychology continues to have far-reaching influence on issues of discrimination and other issues of social welfare and social justice. We are grateful for Dr. Sandler, the Clarks and all of you, known and unknown, who continue the fight and thus make all our lives better.