For decades, Title IX enforcement focused on gender equity in athletics. But since the 2011 Dear Colleague Letter, colleges, universities, and the Department of Education have focused in on Title IX’s application to campus sexual harassment and sexual violence. Yet Title IX continues to require gender equity in your athletics programs. With an apparently rising tide of Title IX athletics enforcement, the question remains—are you giving gender equity in athletics the attention it deserves?
Most colleges and universities start a Title IX gender equity analysis by asking whether they provide “equitable participation” opportunities. They do this by comparing enrollment numbers for full-time, undergraduate students with the number of participants in intercollegiate athletics to determine whether there is “substantial proportionality.” While OCR has stated it would address this issue on a case-by-case basis, legal guidance and court cases like Miami University Wrestling Club v. Miami University indicate that substantial proportionality can be achieved with a 1-to-2 percent disparity in athletic opportunities when compared to enrollment numbers—a small margin.
Having disproportionate participation opportunities doesn’t necessarily mean a school is out of compliance. Equitable participation can also be shown by (a) a documented history and continuing practice of program expansion or (b) showing that the interests and abilities of the underrepresented gender have been fully and effectively accommodated. However, these are no small tasks: they require proactive action by school administrators. One way schools can be proactive is by developing and distributing student surveys to gauge whether sufficient athletic opportunities are being provided to their student population.
Beyond equitable participation opportunities, Title IX compliance also requires equitable financial support and equitable treatment. Finding out where you stand on equitable financial support requires a review of the athletic-based financial aid awarded to student-athletes, while an equal treatment analysis looks at a “laundry list” of factors (e.g., equipment and supplies; scheduling of games and practice times; locker rooms, practice facilities and competitive facilities; availability and qualifications of coaches; publicity; etc.) to determine gender equity.
What This Means For You
As much as we all hate doing laundry, when Title IX compliance is at issue, putting it off until next week (or until that notice of an Office for Civil Rights complaint arrives on your desk) is not the best game plan. Perhaps now, or shortly after you return from a much-needed holiday break, is a good time to give some thought to tackling the gender equity in athletics analysis at your institution.