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Title IX leveling the playing field in the classroom

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University Photography at WIU
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Polly Radosh was a high school senior in 1971, the year before Title IX became law. She planned to go to college, but encountered some resistance.

“My high school guidance counselor told me I wasn’t college material and it would be a waste of my parents’ money if I went to college – I was only a girl and I’d get married anyway,” Radosh recalls.

“I was devastated. It had never entered my mind that I was not going to go to college. And I don’t know why I felt that way because only about 10% of women high school students went to college at that point.”

Radosh was not deterred, even when the guidance counselor refused to sign her college application. She went to community college for a year and then transferred to a public university.

Radosh went on to have a long career in higher education. She taught sociology at Western Illinois University beginning in 1984 and later served as the founding chair of WIU’s Department of Women’s Studies. From 2008 to 2011 she was the Dean of the College at the State University of New York at Geneseo.

She is currently a member of Western Illinois University’s Board of Trustees and served as its chairperson from 2019 to 2021.

Radosh believes Title IX helped make her career possible.

“I can’t say that I wouldn’t have had opportunities. I know I had enhanced opportunities because of it,” she said, adding the law also helped bring about other changes.

For example, Radosh said that when she was in graduate school and teaching courses, she gave birth to her first child on a Monday and was back in the classroom teaching on Thursday. She said Title IX helped encourage the administration to look at the issue of family leave even before the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993.

“You could see the slow, steady progression toward more policies that would help people who were having children or wanted a career to continue in spite of the usual family obligations that might get in the way,” she said.

Radosh said Title IX has helped many women pursue their dreams. For example, she said, before Title IX about 9% of medical school students were women and about 7% of law school students were women.

She said now those classes are close to half.

“The expansion in opportunities for women in professions is extraordinary,” she said.

“In the old discrimination, you could discriminate against a woman simply because she was a woman in medical school. You don’t want to waste your resources educating somebody who’s going to get married and have children.

“And pregnancy was a career killer. Once you became pregnant in higher education or even a primary school, your career was over.”

Title IX went into effect fifty years ago, on June 23, 1972. The civil rights law is often associated with sports but its scope is much wider. It prohibits gender-based discrimination in all education programs that receive funding from the federal government.

That’s key because a person’s interest in a particular career can develop at an early age. Patrick Twomey said this is why Title IX is so important -- not just for higher education but for elementary and secondary school districts too.

“It helps you keep your eye on the big equity issues,” said Twomey, who is superintendent of the Macomb School District and its Title IX coordinator.

He said the district works to ensure its program offerings are well balanced and that females and males are participating at relatively equal levels. He said there is no question that good school districts today look different than they did before Title IX.

“If you look back several years ago, you saw very few girls in upper level science classes, for instance. That has completely changed. And it’s changed because when you saw those low numbers after Title IX, you had a responsibility at a younger age to start encouraging girls to enter the sciences,” he said.

Twomey said the Macomb School District’s entire administration team did intensive Title IX training a year ago. He said that’s kept the district up-to-date on regulations and better trained on how to investigate complaints.

Despite advances, Polly Radosh said gender-based problems still exist. For example, women are often paid less than men for the same work.

But she said Title IX paved the way for progress, and she wishes there were more laws like it.

“We don’t have an Equal Rights Amendment. We don’t have other pieces of legislation. It’s one of the very few pieces of legislation that actually addresses this issue. And it has worked. It has been successful,” she said.

Radosh said you can see the impact of Title IX by looking at the progress made at the top levels of the business world.

In 1980, just 1% of the top executive positions at Fortune 500 companies were held by women. She said now it’s 15% and growing.

Radosh believes we’re right on the edge of seeing more change. She said perhaps the next generation will be less patient in trying to bring it about.

Tri States Public Radio produced this story.  TSPR relies on financial support from our readers and listeners in order to provide coverage of the issues that matter to west central Illinois, southeast Iowa, and northeast Missouri. As someone who values the content created by TSPR's news department please consider making a financial contribution.