Celebrating Title IX at the White House

Jun 23, 2009 6:41pm

ABC News' Yunji de Nies reports: 37 years ago today, Title IX was enacted, a law designed to rid the country's education system of gender-based discrimination, particularly in athletics. Today, to mark that anniversary, the White House held a roundtable, led by President Barack Obama's Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett and Education Secretary Arne Duncan.  Jarrett, who also chairs the White House Council on Women and Girls, moderated the discussion, which included a number of high profile athletes like tennis great Billy Jean King and Olympic champion Dominique Dawes, along with several dozen female high school students, and variety of policy makers.  The public was invited to participate, via the White House website and an application on Facebook.com. The discussion focused on the benefits of Title IX protections, not just in sports, but in areas of academics, like science and math, as well.  Russlynn Ali, Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Department of Education, said today's event was significant. "This is the first time the White House has commemorated the anniversary of Title IX.  That is a very, very big deal," she said, "Today's event shows what's possible when you have an administration that cares." While the panel hailed the achievements made possible through Title IX, the consensus was that young women still have a long way to go to reach full equality.  Marcia Greenberger, President of the National Women's Law Center, said that on every level – from elementary school through college – "Women are not getting the same opportunities to play, even with the progress that has been made."  Consequently, she said those limits translate to a gap between girls and boys in areas of education and business development skills. Greenberger noted that while explicit barriers have been broken down, there is still a great deal of gender segregation and discrimination, and that, "We've got loads of work to do."
King spoke about growing up with a father who supported her in her athletic endeavors, and who never allowed her to read news reports about her performance, "because they're talking about yesterday," she explained. Jarrett turned to her and said, "Ah, we should do that," to which the audience laughed.  On a more serious note, King said that the discussion marked a fresh start for more rigorous Title IX enforcement.  "This a new beginning," she said, "This is an opportunity that we have never had and let's take advantage of it. " King echoed those comments to reporters immediately after the meeting.  "We’re very excited that all of us are going to be working together to help Title IX go forward to truly have it enforced and also have the minds and heart of people to catch up to this piece of legislation," she said. Dominique Dawes noted that she had directly benefited from Title IX, when she began her career as a gymnast at age 6. "It was an opportunity that was there for me for the taking," she said. "Title IX is not just about athletics, or math and science – it’s truly to help our young girls become leaders in life and to first become a leader in life you have to become a leader yourself. And I think I learned that in the gymnastic gym those 18 years that I was upside down." Jarrett told the group that the Council on Women and Girls will be reviewing all federal programs that impact women and girls, to determine whether or not they are effective.  She ended the discussion with a promise. "The Council on Women and Girls is here to serve you," she said, "We're not going to rest on our laurels until there is absolute equality."

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