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Sandler’s persistence paved the way

There was a time not that long ago when being on the cheerleading squad was the only sport available to young women. Today they can choose to compete in a variety of athletics at school and college.

Thanks to Bernice Sandler.

She was the point person 47 years ago behind passage of Title IX, the legislation that outlaws sex discrimination in education.

Her battle for sexual equality didn’t start out as a push to gain access to sports, according to a profile in The New York Times marking Sandler’s Jan. 5 death at age 90. She was spurred by how academia commonly treated women, including her own experience of being rejected for a job because she was “just a housewife who went back to school,” the potential employer said.

Sandler — ironically using the research skills acquired earning advanced degrees no one would hire her for — uncovered a reference to an unheralded executive order that barred organizations with federal contracts from discriminating on the basis of sex. So she went after universities, which get federal dollars, by filing administrative complaints against them through the Labor Department. That action eventually led to the landmark law.

The Times story explores how Title IX’s application grew over the years, clearing the way for equal opportunities for women’s athletics, and establishing that sexual harassment of students qualifies as discrimination under the law. As a result, colleges that get federal funding must take measures to prevent sexual discrimination, harassment and misconduct in all university services and academic programs.

It’s a good sign of progress that young women are likely oblivious to how they benefit from the work and persistence of Sandler. But that’s OK; she was probably happy knowing that Title IX’s opportunities and protections are simply expected in many ways these days.

She also realized that the fix wasn’t quick and that the journey would be very long. And that is exhibited on many fronts today, including the recent #MeToo movement and regular reports of unequal pay for women.

With Sandler’s dedication as an example, others can continue her work, including people in all walks of life as demonstrated in a Times anecdote. Sandler once refused to enter through the back door of an all-male organization. After walking through the front door, she distributed buttons saying “Uppity Women Unite.” A male waiter asked for a handful. He then placed them on the urinals in the men’s bathrooms.

Her story is a great illustration of how, in this struggle for equality, women need not go it alone.

— Mankato Free Press

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