Title IX Turns 50
Ann Astrup ’78 is a natural athlete, but when she was growing up in Austin, Minnesota, she never officially got to play on a team. Until her sophomore year, when her high school scheduled a handful of girls basketball games, she recalls, “I played with the boys.”
When a girls team was finally assembled, it felt like a second thought. “We had to buy our own T-shirts,” Astrup says. “Nobody came to our games.”
When Astrup got to St. Olaf, Title IX — the landmark federal civil rights law that prohibits sex-based discrimination in schools and education programs — had been around for just a few years. Yet it was starting to create more opportunities for women.
Astrup was so excited by the athletic options available for female student-athletes at St. Olaf that she signed up for three: volleyball, basketball, and softball.
“I was so glad that there were opportunities,” Astrup says. “I could finally play.”
What felt like a wonderland to athletes like Astrup in those first few years was actually far from the level playing field Title IX had promised. In the fall of 1974, there were 12 athletic teams for men at St. Olaf. There were seven for women. During that academic year, 345 men participated in athletics. Just 96 women participated. Male student athletes were courted and revered, Astrup recalls. Women had teams, but they were an afterthought, she says.
“When I look back now I see the discrepancy between what we had versus what the men had,” Astrup says. Yet Astrup and her teammates were so thrilled to finally be able to compete that the differences felt easy to ignore.
This summer marked the 50th anniversary of Title IX. Today St. Olaf offers 13 varsity sports for women — the same number as men — and there are 240 female student-athletes. Ole women athletes have won 24 individual national championships and 42 team conference championships. They work hard, compete furiously, and have an unwavering expectation that equal opportunities will be available to them.
St. Olaf Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies Diane LeBlanc, who co-authored Playing for Equality: Oral Histories of Women Leaders in the Early Years of Title IX, notes that Congress passed Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 in response to a broad range of sex-based discrimination in education. “Girls and women faced overt discrimination through such practices as denying them access to courses and programs that historically enrolled boys and men, tying financial aid to sex-based opportunities, hiring on the basis of sex, and excluding girls and women from competitive sports and athletics,” she says.
After Title IX went into effect on June 23, 1972, educational programs that received federal money had to demonstrate compliance with nondiscriminatory practices or risk losing their funding.
Contrary to popular belief, LeBlanc notes, Title IX was not created specifically to address inequality in athletics. “But once physical educators, coaches, administrators, and athletes realized its potential to create change in sports, they began tailoring implementation to specific inequalities involving girls and women in sports,” she says.
Over the last 50 years, the scope of Title IX has broadened significantly. In addition to prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex, gender identity, or sexual orientation, the law provides protection against sexual harassment, sexual violence, gender-based stereotyping, and genderbased harassment. Colleges and universities are required to have a Title IX coordinator to oversee compliance with the law and to adopt a process to respond to alleged violations, a role filled at St. Olaf by Title IX and Section 504 Coordinator Pamela McDowell.
The way that Title IX has broadened over the decades means that while earlier generations associate the law with equal opportunities in athletics, many young alumni and current students associate the work with preventing and addressing sexual misconduct on campus. LeBlanc says it’s important that all generations understand the comprehensive potential of Title IX. “Imagine the possibilities if we all understood the full depth of gender discrimination and its impact on education,” she says.
That’s a message that Olympic medalist Joey Lye drove home during a speech she gave at St. Olaf this fall as part of a celebration of 50 Years of Women in Sports. Lye paid tribute to women’s rights activist Bernice Sandler, who played an instrumental role in the creation of Title IX after being denied equal access to teaching jobs at her university, as well as the legislators — led by Edith Green, Patsy Mink, and Birch Bayh — who were key to getting Title IX signed into law.
“I have so much gratitude for those who began the fight — and I say began, because there’s still so much work to do,” Lye told the audience during her keynote address. “The more I continue to learn about the people who set the stage, the more empowered I am to continue the fight.”
CREATING AN EQUAL PLAYING FIELD
One of the early drivers for change at St. Olaf was Associate Professor Emerita of Exercise Science Chris Daymont, who worked in the college’s Athletic Department for nearly 40 years. She came to the college in 1976 with a freshly minted degree in kinesiology from New York’s Syracuse University. For an annual salary of $11,200 a year, she was hired, she recalls, “as the women’s cross country coach and indoor and outdoor track and field coach. I was an assistant basketball coach. And I taught classes, too.” Though the responsibilities were big and the pay modest, Daymont was over the moon.
“I was thrilled I had a job,” she says now. Growing up, Daymont never had the opportunity to play on a school team. She was determined to make a difference: “I wanted to make sure that women got the opportunities I never had. I went into coaching for that.”
I wanted to make sure that women got the opportunities I never had. I went into coaching for that.Associate Professor Emerita of Exercise Science Chris Daymont
Daymont, like Astrup, felt her world expand when she went to college and was eventually able to play on teams. Women’s cross country and track and field were new sports at St. Olaf, and Daymont worked hard to make it clear that the women on her teams were athletes, just like the men, and they deserved equal treatment. Having a law like Title IX to back her up — combined with Daymont’s bold stubbornness about pointing out discrepancies — eventually helped change happen.
“St. Olaf changed things,” Daymont says, recalling how getting the college to issue uniforms for female studentathletes that weren’t hand-me-downs from the men’s team or towels of the same size and quality as their male counterparts’ required some serious pestering, “Things happened, but you had to ask. As long as you were stirring the pot, things eventually got done.”
It wasn’t always easy being a trailblazer, the now-retired Daymont says. She recalls a number of negative interactions during her career, including harassment by male colleagues. Nevertheless, she persisted. “I protected my team. I coached them up, made them good. I worked hard on my teaching. I just kept doing my job,” she says.
Under Daymont’s leadership, her team shined. By 1979, St. Olaf women’s cross country was ranked second-best in the country.
Daymont considers all her Ole teams special. The early athletes were eager to be coached and be a part of a team, some for the very first time. “Years later, coaching my own daughters reaffirmed that the fight was worth the energy and effort it took to make change happen,” Daymont says. “And it is heartwarming to see the young women today honoring the past and still working to make things better for future Oles.”
What cannot be overlooked, she emphasizes, is the courage and strength of the women who showed up to practice and compete in the sports they loved no matter the obstacles or biases they faced. “It was simple. They just wanted to play. Their courage, desire, and passion forced change in an arena that was reluctant to change,” she says.
A half-century later, members of the St. Olaf women’s cross country team are still schooled on Title IX and its impact on women’s athletics. Head coach Erica Maker ’04 was a member of the team under Daymont, and she brings her former coach back each year to talk to the team about how Title IX changed the country.
“When I ask Chris to speak to the team, I want her to share it all — the highs and the lows, the triumphs and the struggles. She may not coach the women on the team now, but everything she worked for, and everything our alumni worked for, have made it possible for us to have the success we are experiencing today,” Maker says. “Now it’s our turn to be those women and continue to push for equity and opportunity, both in sports and beyond. Understanding our past lays the groundwork for helping us build an even brighter future for all.”
These talks have made an impact on current student-athletes like runner Seneca Norvell ’23, who says learning about the early trailblazers who pushed for access and equality has been empowering. “Hearing about their frustrations and fights has definitely made me feel more confident about speaking up about things,” says Norvell.
LeBlanc says St. Olaf has arrived at a different point than it sat at in the early days that Astrup and Daymont describe. Today, LeBlanc says, “No one at St. Olaf can say, ‘We have a men’s soccer team. We don’t have a women’s soccer team.’” Upholding Title IX is, in a way, more complicated now, she concludes. “It has come down to those more nuanced things that are hard to measure,” she says.
St. Olaf student-athletes like basketball standout Kay Kay Lewis ’22 are empowered to point out those nuances and advocate for things like improvements to locker rooms and additional team apparel. Basketball has provided her not only with lifelong friendships and a tight-knit community, but has helped her become a confident leader. “Everything in sports at St. Olaf has gotten better during my four years here,” she says.
Yet there’s still work to do. This summer St. Olaf Athletics evaluated how individual teams fundraise, and the department is implementing new policies to ensure equitable resources are available for all programs. Leaders are also examining ways to elevate the role of women in athletics administration at the college.
“I am proud to be a part of Ole Athletics, where I truly believe women can make a difference. We have come a long way in the 50 years since Title IX, but we have so much further to go,” says head softball coach Kayla Hatting. “And I know the impact and continued change for women can start right here at St. Olaf.”
I am proud to be a part of Ole Athletics, where I truly believe women can make a difference. We have come a long way in the 50 years since Title IX, but we have so much further to go.Head Softball Coach Kayla Hatting
Maker agrees. “The women in this department — both athletes and coaches — are leaders, not just on the field, track, or court, but in the classroom and community as well. They stand out because they are used to rising to a challenge and breaking down barriers,” she says. “Women in athletics have always been considered a necessity — at first, simply to appease the law of Title IX. Now no one can deny we are so much more than an obligation. We lead teams and shape departmental policy while balancing being wives and mothers. We win championships and accolades while earning some of the highest GPAs in the college. We were doing all these things before, but now we are demanding the respect we’ve always deserved and pushing past preconceived notions of what women are capable of. We are an extraordinary force when we are united, and are still figuring out our full potential.”
A PROCESS TO ADDRESS SEXUAL MISCONDUCT
While much of the early years of Title IX focused on equality in athletics, in the last decade attention has shifted to another powerful part of the law: the requirement that institutions respond to known incidents of sexual harassment, including sexual assault and other forms of sexual misconduct. So although the role of the college’s Title IX coordinator is to ensure compliance with all aspects of Title IX law, including gender equity among all programs and activities at the college, a significant part of the work is overseeing the process for promptly, impartially, and equitably addressing and resolving all reports of sex discrimination, sexual harassment, and sexual misconduct.
This fall St. Olaf appointed McDowell as the college’s new Title IX and Section 504 coordinator. Kari Hohn, who had served as the college’s director of Title IX and equal opportunity for the last six years, moved into a new Human Resources role at St. Olaf.
Before Hohn came to campus in 2016, the Title IX coordinator position was part-time. The role is now fulltime, per recommendations from the Title IX Working Group that was formed that year in response to student protests around the college’s handling of sexual misconduct claims. The working group recommended that the college transform the way students were supported during the grievance process, and the Title IX coordinator role was expanded to achieve that.
Hohn had previously worked in Washington, D.C., as an advocate for survivors of sexual assault and was a staff member at the Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault. At St. Olaf, she knew she had her work cut out for her. “I was walking into a pretty tense community. People were very distrustful and very hurt,” she says. “A lot of those first couple of years was spent trying to demonstrate how things were different, to build up the program in a way that people could believe in.”
Hohn worked tirelessly to restore the community’s faith in the Title IX process. She significantly increased efforts to prevent violence and harassment, including establishing the Consent and Sexual Respect Initiative, and educated the community on how to report misconduct.
“Under her leadership, today we have a process that ensures a caring, consistent, fair, impartial, and lawful response for all participants,” says St. Olaf Vice President and General Counsel Carl Crosby Lehmann ’91, who had more than 20 years of experience advising colleges and universities on Title IX before he joined St. Olaf in 2016.
McDowell is ready to build on this foundation. As a key member of both the college’s Title IX Coordinated Response Team and its Bias Response Team, McDowell has worked closely with Hohn and has a deep familiarity with St. Olaf’s policies and processes. She served as the college’s conduct officer from 2009 until this year, has provided assistance to students involved in cases of sexual harassment and misconduct, and has both conducted and adjudicated investigations of sexual misconduct.
McDowell’s work is supported by a 12-member Title IX team that includes staff and administrators from across campus. St. Olaf also has an independent Title IX Advisory Group that seeks feedback on Title IX processes and policies from members of the St. Olaf community. The Advisory Group submits an annual report to the president of the college, summarizing the feedback it has received, including what is working well and what needs improvement.
The goal of this structure is to increase transparency and accountability. “The process has a lot of credibility in our community now as a result of the attention that it was given and the changes that were made,” Lehmann says.
I love how hard we’ve worked to make the Title IX Office a space for resources and education. We are grounded in wanting anyone who needs us to be able to learn about all the options and resources available so that they can make an informed decision about next steps. We’ve put a lot of time and effort into turning a law and process that has many compliance requirements into something that fits with and is accessible to our community. That is no small feat.Former Title IX Coordinator Kari Hohn
Zoe Golden ’22 signed up to help survivors of sexual misconduct and interpersonal violence during her first year on campus. She joined with others volunteering at the college’s student-run Sexual Assault Resources Network (SARN), and went on to become chair of the organization.
A child of the generation born with Title IX in place, Golden grew up confident that all students, no matter what their gender or sexual orientation, have a legal right to feel like they are safe and fairly treated on campus. In her role as a SARN advocate, she provided a non-judgmental listening ear and helpful connections to support resources both on campus and off.
“SARN is a confidential resource for students,” Golden says. “This means that whatever is said to you cannot be repeated to anyone unless it is something that is going to harm one person or other people.”
While St. Olaf offers five confidential resources (SARN, Health Services, the Counseling Center, College Pastors and Chaplains, and TimelyCare), SARN is the only student-run confidential resource.
Though SARN, founded in 1987, has a long history of supporting students, Golden said the group gained more clout and credibility in 2016. The comprehensive, easily accessible Title IX process that exists at St. Olaf today — and the culture shift that made it possible — helps Oles feel comfortable talking about sexual misconduct, Golden says. They know that the school takes these reports seriously and is committed to seeing them through to a positive and fair resolution.
“I love how hard we’ve worked to make the Title IX Office a space for resources and education. We are grounded in wanting anyone who needs us to be able to learn about all the options and resources available so that they can make an informed decision about next steps,” Hohn says, emphasizing that providing people who report misconduct with the autonomy to decide whether and how to move forward with a case is crucially important. “We’ve put a lot of time and effort into turning a law and process that has many compliance requirements into something that fits with and is accessible to our community. That is no small feat.”
WATCH A VIRTUAL CONVERSATION WITH TWO TRAILBLAZERS
Jeanne Foley ’75 and Aldra Henry Allison ’77 are part of a group of Oles whose connection to the college is so strongly tied to their pioneering role in women’s athletics that when they returned to St. Olaf for Reunion Weekend in 2019, they didn’t do so as members of their graduating classes — they did so as part of a reunion group that they simply dubbed The Trailblazers.
Watch a Women’s History Month conversation with Allison and Foley where they discuss their experiences at St. Olaf, their trailblazing role as women in male-dominated career fields, and the work that remains to fulfill the promise of Title IX.