Title IX at 50: How 37 words changed the world for women (The Christian Science Monitor)
A 37-word law passed 50 years ago has dramatically expanded the rights of women on America’s athletic fields – and beyond.
For its cover feature on the 50th anniversary of Title IX, The Christian Science Monitor speaks to Dr. Ann Olivarius about her landmark case to bring charges against Yale University, and how it changed the law forever.
One prominent member of the cast was Ann Olivarius. She arrived at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, in 1973, just four years after the college opened its undergraduate programs to women. But the thrill of attending one of the nation’s most hallowed halls of learning was soon replaced by outrage.
As an undergraduate researching the status of women at the university, who made up just a quarter of the student body, Dr. Olivarius noticed a pattern: Female students who reported accounts of sexual harassment and rape by faculty members had no protections from the university.
“We fundamentally could not understand why there was a disconnect,” says Dr. Olivarius, who runs a legal practice today that includes a specialty in sex discrimination. “Our view was that everyone had a mother at least, most had partners, they had daughters, they had cousins, they had sisters. … Why would they look the other way?”
She gathered together plaintiffs, with the support of legal theorist Catharine MacKinnon and attorneys at the New Haven Law Collective. They filed a lawsuit in 1977 using an untested argument: By failing to effectively address complaints of sexual assault and harassment, Yale was violating Title IX. Only one of the plaintiffs’ claims advanced to trial. The rest were dismissed. But a single line written by U.S. Magistrate Judge Arthur Latimer in Alexander v. Yale changed history:
“It is perfectly reasonable to maintain that academic advancement conditioned upon submission to sexual demands constitutes sex discrimination in education.”