It’s one of the government’s most famous (or infamous) policies, but is arguably the least understood. At only around 40 words, it dictates campus activity for millions of students. College students protest for stricter implementation, non-profit foundations argue for portions of its stipulations to be flat-out repealed. It has even been widely written about on this very website

What law is this? I’m referring, of course, to Title IX

What is Title IX?

Prior to explaining what Title IX was meant to do, it is imperative to know what Title IX actually is. Put simply, Title IX is a policy passed and enforced by the federal government which forbids sex based discrimination in educational settings which receive federal funding.

Specifically, Title IX states the following:

No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.

Apart from the later implemented regulations and executive guidance documents, that is all there is to it. 

Despite being a law of limited words, Title IX is both far-reaching and of serious importance. It has a major impact on educational institutions: schools that violate Title IX risk losing vital federal funding They also risk being investigated by the United States Department of Justice, which could lead to even more severe punishment. 

What Does It Do?

Everything seems pretty straightforward so far, right? As long as educational establishments don’t discriminate based on sex, then they won’t be in trouble with the federal government. 

But what exactly does sex-based discrimination in an educational setting look like?

The place to go to answer this question is the statements of Senator Birch Bayh (D-IN). Senator Bayh was the primary sponsor of Title IX in the Senate at the time of its creation and passage.

In the early 1970s, Congress sought to address some of the holes that were left after the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. One such gap was gender discrimination in education. When amendments to the Higher Education Act, which dealt with federally assisting the nation’s system of higher education, were being debated in 1971 and 1972,  Senator Bayh pushed for the policy known today as Title IX. 

So How Does This Work?

According to congressional records, Bayh stated directly that his Title IX Amendment “deals with equal access to education. Such access should not be denied because of poverty or sex… It does not do any good to pass out hundreds of millions of dollars if we do not see that the money is applied equitably to over half our citizens.”

In a separate statement, Bayh explicitly defined several aspects of the educational setting that Title IX was designed to regulate. He told the Senate that “sex discrimination reaches into all facets of education–admissions, scholarship programs, faculty hiring and promotion, professional staffing, and pay scales.” 

Bayh also specified that access to extracurricular activities should not be denied to students based on their gender, as well. However, Bayh specified that this applies in cases where the activity in question does not involve a unique gender component. This is where the widely known athletic aspect of Title IX comes in play. According to Bayh, this doesn’t force a male athletic team to accept women. Rather, this allows women to have their own athletic opportunities.

If this sounds different or more refined than the Title IX you know today, you might be on to something.

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This article is the first part in a two-part series on the history, transformation, and current shape of Title IX.

Check back in next week to read the follow-up article, which will discuss how the law has been stretched by the federal government into regulating schools’ admissions offices, athletic fields, and even their bedrooms and bathrooms.