Fifty years ago today, on June 23, 1972, life changed for women in education across the country. Title IX legislation was passed making it illegal for all institutions receiving federal financial assistance from the U.S. Department of Education to discriminate based on sex. This landmark law sought to level the playing field across all aspects of university life.
When I walk across our beautiful campuses, I see how Title IX has transformed USC. Although USC was proudly co-ed from its founding, it did not resemble the university we see today. Title IX took USC from a school where its athletic department sponsored no female teams to a powerhouse in women’s college sports. And it didn’t stop with athletics. Today more than 50 percent of our students are female, we have women in senior leadership positions, we have reached gender parity in our doctoral and professional programs, and we are making progress toward parity within our faculty across the university.
Thinking back, it is quite possible that women wouldn’t be in many university leadership positions without the game-changing effects of Title IX. While I don’t remember this legislation being passed, I do remember, and quite vividly, the epic Battle of the Sexes tennis match where Billie Jean King took on Bobby Riggs just a year later in 1973. More than 90 million people tuned in and watched King trounce Riggs. Her triumph signaled that the leveling of the playing field had begun for all women and underscored the profound importance of Title IX to women’s athletics.
Pell Grants and Title IX both became a reality in 1972. It was time when women and people of color were speaking out and demanding equity and access. Fearless trailblazers changed the face of institutions across America for the better. There is still much more work to do, and we are inspired by these pioneers who were determined to do all they could to help women across America achieve their fullest potential. We owe much to their courage and perseverance.
Today USC begins a yearlong celebration paying tribute to the trailblazers who paved the way and opened doors, and whose success has benefited so many over these past 50 years. Our website, Title IX: 50 Years of Progress, will be updated regularly with fresh stories, upcoming events and moving personal histories. USC Athletics has produced a compelling documentary with provocative interviews highlighting our history. It will be available for all to view on the USC Athletics Title IX Celebration page by Friday, June 24. Later today, I will kick off a panel discussion featuring Trojans who will share the impact of Title IX on their lives and careers. You can watch it here, live, at 6:00pm this evening.
Many of our students don’t know what life was like before Title IX. Of course, just because it became law, it didn’t mean that a switch flipped and discrimination based on sex ended. Yet, the push for change, propelled by the legislation, grew and spread. Generations ever since have worked tirelessly to keep the dream of Title IX alive, and to extend the scope of the law to include equity and access for women in all aspects of higher education, including academics, employment, STEM fields, athletics and more.
From athletics to our schools, and to our administrators, staff, and faculty, protecting Title IX is a university-wide responsibility. As part of this yearlong tribute, we will learn more about the full range of Title IX’s influence and the trailblazers here at USC who led our community. We will have the chance to consider not only what has happened, but what still is needed. I want to thank everyone who supports our work in this area, and especially our dedicated staff at USC’s Title IX office (EEO-TIX). They are committed every day to upholding the principles of Title IX for all Trojans. Thanks also to the many individuals and departments, starting with USC Athletics, who have devoted time and energy to planning our celebrations. I hope to see many of you at these events throughout the year.
Carol L. Folt