Celebrating women by striving for fairness

One of the first women who comes to mind when I think of this year’s International Women’s Day theme, #BalanceforBetter, is Kyla Ross. Not only does the 22-year-old Olympic gold medalist balance her busy UCLA Bruins gymnastics team schedule while pursuing her molecular, cell, and developmental biology degree, but she recently earned the Pac-12 balance beam title with a perfect score. Wow!

(Check out Kyla’s amazing moves.)

Kyla’s success is one of the best reasons I can think of to observe National Women’s History Month, as well as International Women’s Day, which is on March 8: to celebrate women whose dedication and hard work are moving us toward a gender-balanced world and encouraging young girls to achieve their dreams. Title IX is a big part of that trajectory.

(Photo by Kyusung Gong/Icon Sportswire) (Icon Sportswire via AP Images)

This important law provides opportunities for young women like Kyla and ensures that educational institutions do not discriminate on the basis of sex, but right now it is at risk because of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

We need a world in which equality in education is valued so young women like Kyla Ross can succeed in whatever they want to do. I didn’t always see eye to eye with former Education Secretary Arne Duncan, but I completely agree when he refers to Title IX as “one of the great civil rights success stories in education.”

“Studies have documented repeatedly that the benefits of athletics stretch far beyond the playing field. Women athletes are more likely to graduate from college than female students who don’t play sports,” Duncan said in a speech a few years ago. “One recent rigorous study of Title IX… found that up to 40 percent of the overall rise in employment among women in the 25- to 34-year-old age group was attributable to Title IX.”

Title IX may be best known for paving the way for female athletes, but it also broadly prohibits all forms of sex discrimination—including sexual harassment and assault—in educational institutions that receive federal funding.

The law has opened many opportunities for women. Yet, women are not always safe in school labs or hallways or gyms.

In Kyla’s own sport, Dr. Lawrence Nassar, former U.S. Olympic team doctor and physician for the Michigan State University gymnastics team, received what amounts to a life sentence for committing multiple sex crimes over many years. More than 150 women athletes testified against him.

“We are here, we have our voices, and we are not going anywhere,” Gold Medalist Aly Raisman said in her court statement.

At a time when women and men are confronting and sharing their experiences with harassment and assault in schools and higher education institutions, Betsy DeVos and the Trump administration want to weaken Title IX protections.

They propose restricting schools from responding to reported incidents of sexual harassment and requiring burdensome, complex procedures for resolving complaints, such as live hearings where a victim could be questioned by an attorney. The new rules proposed by DeVos will discourage students from coming forward and erode the school climate for all students.

As I’ve said before, and as NEA explained in our comments to the Department of Education opposing the proposed rule, what DeVos wants to do conflicts not just with Title IX’s purpose but also with the basic values of equality, safety, and respect that we teach our students every day. The Trump administration should strengthen, not weaken, Title IX because the law makes the success of young women like Kyla Ross possible.

Are you looking for ways to support equal opportunity for girls and women? National Women’s History Month is a perfect time to get active. To find out more about what you can do to make sure all students have the opportunities they deserve, visit NEA’s education justice website.


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