Psychologists still need to help implement Title IX as it celebrates its 40th anniversary

Psychologists are needed more than ever as the issues of sex discrimination become more subtle

Susan S. KleinBy guest writer Susan S. Klein, Education Equity Director, Feminist Majority Foundation

Since the early years of Title IX, many psychologists have advanced gender equality and helped end sex-based inequities in and through education using their research and other expertise. However, psychologists are needed more than ever as the issues of sex discrimination become more subtle as we still need to stop efforts to turn back the clock.

What is Title IX?

No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance. (Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. To honor one of its key Congressional sponsors, it was named the Patsy T. Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act on October 9, 2002.)

Title IX covers all levels and areas of education, including athletics, vocational/technical education and sex discriminatory behavior impacting students and employees. Although Title IX protections against sex discrimination are not as extensive and durable as we would receive from a Constitutional Equal Rights Amendment, Title IX has helped women and girls and men and boys benefit from more equitable treatment and attain more equitable outcomes (See “The Triumphs of Title IX”) (PDF, 442KB). However, gender disparities based on traditional stereotypes and subtle but damaging discrimination persist. (Title IX Defined). There is much that psychologists can continue to do to improve public policies and practices to build on Title IX triumphs and to stop the backsliding including increased purposeful sex segregated education.

Role of psychologists in creating and implementing Title IX

Dr. Bernice “Bunny” Sandler, often called the “Godmother of Title IX”, had just received her doctorate in Counseling and Personnel Services from the University of Maryland when she became aware of sex discrimination. In 1969 there were seven open counseling positions but despite her exemplary qualifications, the University Counseling Department did not hire her. She was told that “You come on too strong for a woman”. I met Bunny soon afterward when she agreed to let her psychology class at Mount Vernon College in Washington, D.C. pilot test my education psychology dissertation research on “Student Influence on Teacher Behavior.”

Under the auspices of the Women’s Equity Action League Sandler filed the first sex discrimination complaints using President Johnson’s Executive order prohibiting sex and other discrimination in organizations holding federal contracts. In 1970, Representative Edith Green (D-OR) hired Sandler to work on the Committee on Education and Labor where she compiled testimony to document sex discrimination in education and employment. Dr. Sandler also testified on education discrimination to support the ERA which finally passed in Congress in March 1972. President Nixon signed the critically important, but more limited, Title IX on July 1, 1972.

Sandler continued her leadership against sex discrimination by serving as Deputy Director, Women’s Action Program in the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare and then from 1971-91 directing the Project on the Status and Education of Women at the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U). She helped with the Women’s Educational Equity Act (WEEA) passed under the leadership of Representative Patsy Mink in 1974 to authorize the U.S. Office of Education to fund model programs and other activities to support Title IX. Sandler also chaired the National Advisory Council on Women’s Educational Programs created by WEEA.

Sandler also laid the groundwork for the development of much of the Title IX governmental and non-governmental infrastructure by helping construct the 1975 Title IX regulation to provide guidance on the implementation of Title IX. It was Sandler’s recommendation to require an initial Title IX self-assessment and the appointment of Title IX coordinators to help people at all levels of education understand their rights and responsibilities to eliminate sex discrimination. In addition to the formal Title IX coordinators employed by the education agencies and schools, Sandler was instrumental in the creation of the National Coalition for Women and Girls in Education which was first chaired by her associate, Margaret Dunkle.

Our “Godmother of Title IX” continues to use her psychology and political skills by serving as a Senior Scholar at the Women’s Research and Education Institute, giving presentations, expert testimony on sexual harassment and many other Title IX protections against sex discrimination.

I kept in touch with Sandler after joining the federal Office of Education in 1969 and as I worked in the federal education research offices until 2003. When feasible I worked on sex equity issues including editing the first major research synthesis, the 1985 Handbook for Achieving Sex Equity through Education (PDF, 6.84MB). I also created the U.S. Department of Education Gender Equity Expert Panel to identify promising and effective gender equity programs. 

In 1984, I coauthored with Joy Simonson, the long time Executive Director of the National Advisory Council on Women’s Educational Programs, an American Psychologist article, “Increasing Sex Equity in Education: Roles for Psychologists”. That same year, the Supreme Court issued the 1984 Grove City College decision limiting Title IX coverage to specific programs receiving direct federal financial assistance. This was not in agreement with Congressional intent or past practice, which held that Title IX covered the whole institution. After much work by equity advocates such as  Sandler and Eleanor Smeal, then President of the National Organization for Women, Congress passed the Civil Rights Restoration Act over President Reagan’s veto in 1988 to restore full institutional coverage for Title IX and parallel civil rights laws such as Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

After 34 years in the Office/ Department of Education I joined the Feminist Majority Foundation (FMF) where I worked with many other psychologists in creating the 2007 Handbook for Achieving Gender Equity through Education. As in the 1985 Handbook, many of the chapter authors and editors were psychologists. Much of my current work as FMF Education Equity Director involves working with Title IX Coordinators and gender equity experts in the National Coalition for Women and Girls in Education to fully implement Title IX.

The 40th anniversary of Title IX shows much progress, but sex discrimination remains

As described in the abstract of the Klein and Simonson 1984 American Psychologist article1, there are many ways psychologists can use their talents to advance gender equality and end sex discrimination in education as required by Title IX. I hope psychologists will help with the following three Title IX challenges as well as many others related to their current interests. 

  1. Identifying and decreasing sex discrimination in the psychology professions (or workforce). 

  2. Convincing educators and the public to stop sex segregation in public education. 

  3. Rebuilding the gender equity infrastructure.

1Abstract: Federal and state legislators have passed laws and established policies designed to promote sex equity in education; nonetheless, full attainment of equity has yet to be achieved. Psychologists have made significant headway in identifying inequities in education and have provided educators with some research-based programs, practices, and policies to help counteract these inequities. Additional sex equity research and development is needed to serve as a guide in the creation and implementation of cost-effective public policies and to assist educators as they encounter many difficult and subtle inequities based on sex, race, ethnicity, handicap, age, or a combination of these factors.

Related Reading

Halpern, D.F., Eliot, L., Bigler, R.S., Fabes, R.A., Hanish, L.D., Hyde, J., Liben, L.S., & Martin, C.L. (2011). The pseudoscience of single-sex schooling (PDF, 672KB). Science, 333, 1706-7.

Hegewisch, A., Williams, C., & Zhang, A. (2012). The gender wage gap: 2011. IWPR #C350a. Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

Klein, S. (2011). The risks of sex-segregated public education for girls, boys, and everyone. In J. L. Martin (Ed.) Women as Leaders in Education: Succeeding Despite Inequity, Discrimination, and Other Challenges (PDF, 203KB), 2, 155-194. Santa Barbara, Calif.: Praeger.

Klein, S. (2012) State of Public School Sex Segregation in the United States. Parts 1, 2 & 3, Feminist Majority Foundation, Arlington, Va.

Klein, S. & Simonson, J. (1984). Increasing sex equity in education: Roles for psychologists. American Psychologist, 39, 1187-1192.

Keita, G., Cameron, L., & Burrwell, T. (2006). Women in the American Psychological Association. Washington, D.C.: Women’s Program Office, American Psychological Association.

American Psychological Association. Report of the Task Force on the Changing Gender Composition of Psychology (1995). Washington, D.C.: Author.

Rivers, C. & Barnett, R.C. (2011). The Truth about girls and boys: Challenging toxic stereotypes about our children. New York, N.Y.: Columbia University Press.

Rivers, C., & Barnett, R. (2012) New research: How girls can win in math and science. The Daily Beast.

U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, (2011). “Household Data, Annual Averages. Table 39.” (retrieved April 2012).