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Maryland Today | The Godmother of Title IX

Collage of archival Title IX images

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Top: Women protest for the enforcement of Title IX; center: Sandler, middle, with U.S. Sen. Birch Bayh (D-Indiana), right, who co-authored Title IX; bottom: President Richard Nixon in 1969 with members of the Citizens’ Advisory Council on the Status of Women.

Walk onto a college campus in the U.S. today, and it’s easy to see that the gender balance has shifted. Since the late 1970s, female students have outnumbered male ones, making up about 57% of the college population as of 2019, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reports. Now free to pursue all majors, women at UMD make up a third of the undergraduates studying engineering and nearly half of all students in the College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences.

“Life chances depend on education. If we discriminate against women in K-12 or higher education, we are setting the foundation for lifelong disparities,” said UMD Provost and Senior Vice President Jennifer King Rice, who served as dean of the College of Education decades after Sandler couldn’t get hired there.

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For many, Title IX remains synonymous with women’s sports, where opportunities have grown exponentially. Girls’ participation in high school sports is 10 times greater than in 1972, according to the NCES. In college, the NCAA reports that women now make up nearly half of all Division I athletes. And while it’s still more common for men to coach women’s teams, women are starting to make inroads into men’s sports, like WNBA star Kristi Toliver ’09, an assistant coach with the Dallas Mavericks.

Toliver is the latest in a long line of female Terps breaking gender barriers. The university established a women’s varsity basketball team in 1971, before the passage of Title IX, and the team competed in the first nationally televised women’s game, in 1975.

Today, UMD is a national powerhouse in women’s sports. The basketball team won the NCAA tournament in 2006 and is consistently ranked in the top 20, and the lacrosse and field hockey teams have a combined 21 national titles, with women’s lacrosse most recently winning the NCAA championship in 2019.

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Field hockey’s Missy Meharg M.A. ’90, the university’s winningest coach, recalls not being allowed to play ice hockey when she was growing up in the 1970s. But today, her student-athletes have gone on to play professionally and represent their countries in the Olympics; become doctors and entrepreneurs; and create clubs and camps for new generations of girls.

“Now we’re embarking on a new team house and stadium for [lacrosse] Coach [Cathy] Reese and I,” said Meharg. “Maryland doesn’t just meet the numbers for women’s sports—we’re thriving and leading every day.”

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Nationally, numerous lawsuits over the years have also expanded Title IX to include sexual harassment or assault within sex discrimination, requiring schools to address complaints and to add protections for whistleblowers who expose gender-based discrimination. The law now also includes safeguards for pregnant and parenting students so they can make up assignments while attending doctor’s appointments, for example.

“Title IX is a powerful tool,” said Neena Chaudhry ’93, general counsel at the National Women’s Law Center, who worked on several of these Supreme Court cases. “We need to continue raising awareness, so if people realize something’s not fair, we can use the law to help them.”

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