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Title IX turns 50: Progress has been made with still more to do

Dr Ashley Baker.jpg
Russ White | MSU Today
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Dr. Ashley Baker, chief diversity officer for Spartan Athletics

Title IX is a federal civil rights law passed as part of the Education Amendments of 1972. It prohibits sex-based discrimination in any school or any other education program that receives funding from the federal government. Title IX is turning 50 years old this June; it went into effect on June 23rd, 1972.

“The scope of Title IX extends well beyond athletics,” says Dr. Ashely Baker, chief diversity officer for Spartan Athletics. “Title IX legislation was really focused broadly on access to education and access to opportunities for women, and sport has been a space where we've really been able to see that more tangibly than in other places. When you think about the root and the focus of what this initial legislation was about, it was looking at what was happening in education and employment and areas that weren't covered under the Civil Rights Act that women were wanting to have access to. We're talking about admissions, recruitment, housing, financial aid, and making sure that there was no discrimination against women when these resources or opportunities were allocated or becoming available and that women weren't excluded from that.”

Baker talks about the significance of the “Godmother of Title IX” Bernice Sandler and discusses how Title IX has evolved.

“We have certainly made progress. There is no doubt about the fact that women and girls have been afforded more opportunity. But when you start to really look at the details and the climate of where we are in sports and across society, we're not as far along as we tend to say we are. We've seen an increase in the number of girls participating in sport at all levels and access to more careers. So, we've opened this door, and there are more women like me who have opportunities we're able to pursue, but we're still faced with several barriers. We still encounter challenges because the bias still exists. Maybe not the overt discrimination, as, ‘Hey, go home and have kids and be in the kitchen.’ But it can still be difficult to really thrive and persist in some areas.”

How would you like to see Title IX evolve in its next 50 years and what are both some challenges and opportunities ahead?

“There are three areas that we must think about of how this legislation needs to be updated to be more reflective of where we are in society and even consider other factors that in the 1960s and 1970s weren't necessarily a priority at that time. We have the intersection of race and gender, we have the impact on the experiences of LGBTQ+ young people who are participating in sport or accessing education, and then we have young people with disabilities.

“While this legislation has certainly impacted women, it failed to and now still fails to look at the intersection of what happens to women of color and what happens to Black women in these spaces where we've opened opportunity. And it doesn't consider what has been coined intersectionality. I have the barrier of being a woman, but I also have the barrier of being a Black person in spaces that maybe aren't as accepting or have continued to create barriers for people like me. I think this legislation needs to be expanded to consider that there are so many other identities that are impacted when we're talking about discrimination.”

Baker describes her role as chief diversity officer for Spartan Athletics. And she talks about the DEI Roadmap for Spartan Athletics and its areas of impact like culture and environment; education and awareness; and recruitment, retention, and advancement. And she talks about the importance of Spartan Athletics being deeply involved in the community.

“We are truly committed to being better and always pushing ourselves to do the right thing to value our staff and the people on the campus and in our community. And we want to be a model for what this looks like. Our student athletes are going to thrive. And when they thrive, we win. When they thrive, they graduate. When they thrive, they go on to become positive members of our society. And all that starts with what our culture and our environment is here and how we treat one another.

“We really love people being champions for Spartan Athletics and supporting what we do and challenging us to be better. Sometimes the feedback is a little tough, but it continues to give us the perspective of individuals who may be outside of our spaces. Are we at our best? How can we be better? What challenges exist and how can we better meet the needs of those around us, who again, support us usually without waiver?”

What are your reflections on the 50th anniversary of Title IX?

“We still have a long way to go, but we have really made progress. We must celebrate and acknowledge it, and we will do that in Spartan Athletics over the next year. There will be several events that are centered on celebrating the trailblazers specifically within our athletics department. There have been some incredible women who have had a wide variety of experiences who have challenged this institution, that have pushed this institution, and have also shown up and been role models for the young women we have on our teams now and the women who work in our department.

“You will see over this next year our commitment to celebrating those women because that is extremely important. The work that they did, many of us would not be where we are right now without it. We know the impact of the first 50 years of Title IX. How are we going to impact the next 50? What will we do differently? What have we learned? How do we push ourselves to move forward to make sure that future generations can say some of the same things about us that we say about the women and men and leaders who have come before us who have impacted these spaces and made them better for us to operate in?

“That's my hope, and that's what I'd like to see, not just over the next year, but continuing into the future. This is a monumental moment in terms of this legislation being 50 years old and it gives us a reality check of where we are and some hopes and dreams of where we could go from here.”

MSU Today airs Saturdays at 5 p.m. and Sundays at 5 a.m. on WKAR News/Talk and Sundays at 8 p.m. on 760 WJR. Find “MSU Today with Russ White” on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and wherever you get your shows.

Russ White is producer and host of "MSU Today," a lively look at MSU people, places, events and attitudes.