BETHESDA, Md. — In order to comply with Title IX — the landmark civil rights law that barred gender discrimination in education and vastly expanded athletic opportunities for women — college and university administrators shouldn’t assume everything is okay as long as no one has filed a complaint.
That was the heart of the message that a U.S. Department of Education official delivered Tuesday at the NCAA Gender Equity Forum.
“Contrary to what some schools have argued, that if you don’t get a complaint you’re in compliance, that’s just not true,” Jacqueline Michaels, Title IX Team Leader at the U.S. Department of Education, told attendees at the forum.
“Schools have to be regularly and continually monitoring athletics programs to make sure you’re in compliance.”
Michaels was one of several speakers at the three-day conference, which drew 270 registrants from colleges and universities and featured a variety of topics from fundraising strategies to dealing with student substance use and hazing.
Among the attendees was China Jude, director of athletics at Cheyney University, the nation’s first HBCU.
Though Jude was busy attending a session on fundraising when Michaels spoke, she said Michaels’ message was still one that resonated with her.
“I definitely don’t see (Title IX) as ‘let’s prevent lawsuits,’” Jude said. “This is about making sure we strategize to bring diversity and inclusion initiatives to our universities.”
Dr. Bernard Franklin, the NCAA’s newly minted chief inclusion officer, challenged attendees to adopt a broader understanding of what diversity and inclusion entail.
“Some people think inclusion means to get to the point where we’re all the same,” Franklin said during a talk titled “Inclusive Cultures — Changing the Face of the NCAA.”
“The delusion of sameness detracts from the value of inclusion,” he continued. “It seeks to create a simulated environment where people proudly say, ‘We don’t see gender. We don’t see race. We’re all the same. This motto — the ‘melting pot’ — was promoted early in the development of this discipline. But most people understand that it blurs differences, covers discomfort and the sense of strangeness or threat that comes with confronting actual human difference. This is the opposite of inclusion,” he continued.
The forum also featured talks on emergent sports for women, such as “stunt” and “acrobatics and tumbling.” Some, however, questioned whether these were actual sports or a new way to get cheerleading recognized as a sport and to thereby count cheerleading when it comes to calculating athletic opportunities for women.
Speakers drew distinction between stunt, acrobatics and tumbling, vis-à-vis traditional sideline cheerleading, saying that the new sports represent an entirely different system of competition, scoring and training.
To get administrators to buy into to the concept of being pro-active about compliance, Michaels suggested that attendees let their superiors know that non-compliance with Title IX can lead to 5, 10 or 15 years of federal monitoring.
Michaels also urged attendees to take great care in how they develop and disseminate surveys used to gauge female students’ interest in sports, which Title IX requires universities to consider in developing and maintaining sports programs.
Surveys must be given in a context that encourages high response rates, be widely disseminated and students should be given advance notice of the survey and adequate time to respond, she said.
Technical assistance is available for institutions to develop and disseminate their surveys, but Michaels said the Education Department will not endorse a survey as being in conformity with the law.
“We won’t tell you you’re in compliance,” she said. “But we will give you guidance. I’ve walked through specific questions and said, ‘This sounds right,’ or ‘This does not sound right to me.’ “
Elise Cooper, head volleyball coach at Montclair State University in Montclair, N.J., said she found Michaels’ talk particularly useful.
“As an institution, we’re looking to review how we stand with Title IX,” she said. “To come here and get that help … is extremely helpful.”
Cooper noted how one good thing about NCAA conferences is that, if you miss one, you can always go onto the NCAA web site and watch footage of the sessions. NCAA officials said video footage of the NCAA Gender Equity Forum would be posted in a month.