Title IX enactment remembered at SRU 45 years later


Women’s sports teams at Slippery Rock University, such as the field hockey team coached by Patricia Zimmerman, wore uniforms used by the physical education department prior to the enactment of Title IX in 1972.

Women’s sports teams at Slippery Rock University, such as the field hockey team coached by Patricia Zimmerman, wore uniforms used by the physical education department prior to the enactment of Title IX in 1972.

Sept. 15, 2017

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - When Title IX was enacted in 1972, the most memorable and visible change for women student-athletes were new uniforms. That's what Wilma Cavill, then a women's swimming coach at Slippery Rock University first recalls, which is somewhat fitting because the law sought to bring uniformity to how men and women were treated at colleges and universities.

The law continues to have deeper, lasting meaning in 2017, which marks the 45th anniversary of Title IX and the United States Education Amendments of 1972, asserting that "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."

Arriving at SRU as a student in 1948, Cavill competed on the gymnastics team. She returned to the University in 1958 and, among other roles, coached women's gymnastics for five years and women's swimming for 13 seasons before solely focusing on her duties as a professor in 1976. While she remembers women's teams getting new uniforms, rather than using apparel issued from the physical education department, Cavill recognized the immediate impact that Title IX had at the time.

"Everything changed," Cavill said. "It changed because it had to. (Prior to Title IX) things didn't happen." 

Wilma Cavill   

The dispersal of funding and resources corrected many imbalances that previously limited the emergence of women's sports. There were just 30,000 women participating in NCAA sports in 1972, compared to 170,000 men. By 1977, the number of women participants more than doubled. Today, the NCAA reports more than 214,000 women participants and 278,000 men.

Although Title IX didn't require women's athletics receive the same amount of money as men's athletics, the law enforced equal access and quality.

"There were all kinds of changes," said Cavill, who retired in 2015 as assistant professor in safety management after more than 57 years at SRU. "There were changes in transportation responsibilities in terms of women coaches (not) having to drive their teams (and) being taken by bus. (Women didn't) draw large crowds like football or men's basketball, so it didn't make a whole lot of difference to the spectators, but it made a big difference to the athletes."

Cavill was among the SRU coaching pioneers who paved the way for women before and after the enactment of Title IX by coaching multiple teams, often without compensation, in addition to also having faculty and administrative roles. Her contemporaries include Patricia Zimmerman, who served SRU from 1961-93 (1976-83 as head field hockey coach), Marie Wheaton from 1948-79 (1974-79 as head volleyball coach), Anne Griffiths from 1965-99 (1970-79 as head basketball coach) and Martha Haverstick from 1962-84.

During the last 45 years, there has been continual legislative activity regarding Title IX, including varying interpretations of how the law should be enforced, but none more significant than in 2011 when the Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights issued a "Dear Colleague" letter that reinterpreted Title IX as giving the federal government authority to dictate procedures that colleges must use to adjudicate student-on-student allegations of sexual assault.

Holly McCoy   

"That caused universities to really look at how they were focusing on Title IX as it related to sexual assault, dating violence and domestic violence," said Holly McCoy, SRU assistant vice president for diversity and compliance, who was appointed the University's Title IX coordinator in 2011. "People are recognizing that it's not just for athletics. Athletics is an important component of it, but it has become much more than that."

In her role, McCoy works closely with appointed Title IX investigators at SRU and also with the Student Conduct Office to manage cases and to provide resources and education to students related to sexual assault, dating violence and domestic violence. All reports of sexual assault at SRU are required by federal law to be reported to McCoy's office.

Various SRU offices and departments also raise awareness and provide services related to the prevention of sexual violence, through programming and initiatives such as the "It's on Us" campaign and Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

"A lot of that goes toward educating students about what consent looks like and what is and isn't appropriate in the hook-up culture," said McCoy, who notes that Title IX training related to sexual assault is incorporated into online training for all SRU students.

Leadership changes at the federal level have kept Title IX in the news. Despite enforcement levels called into question by legislatures, many institutions, including SRU, plan to continue upholding the standards of Title IX.

"We've never done Title IX training because we were told that you should be doing this," McCoy said. "We're doing this because it's the best thing for our students."

The anniversary of Title IX's enactment is a moment to recognize and appreciate its impact according to Cavill. "I don't know if many people have Title IX on their minds now," she added. "But it is something that they can't and shouldn't forget. It's significance can't be denied."

MEDIA CONTACT: Justin Zackal | 724.738.4854 | justin.zackal@sru.edu