Barry McNamara  |   Published February 04, 2022

‘Title IX Turns 50’

The impact of landmark 1972 legislation is society-changing and ongoing.

MONMOUTH, Ill. – Throughout the first half of 2022, Monmouth College is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the passing of Title IX, which was signed into law on June 23, 1972.

TITLE IX: On Feb. 2, Monmouth College hosted a well-received panel discussion on the impact of th...TITLE IX: On Feb. 2, Monmouth College hosted a well-received panel discussion on the impact of the 1972 legislation and what work still needs to be done in terms of equality in women's sports. “No law has done as much as Title IX to empower women since women earned the right to vote in 1920,” said Monmouth Director of Alumni Engagement Jen Armstrong, who is leading campus efforts to observe the historical milestone.

One of those efforts was a Feb. 2 panel discussion, “Title IX Turns 50: Celebrating Women in Athletics.” More than 100 people viewed the virtual event, including Monmouth students in kinesiology instructor Jen Braun’s Reflections course, “Athlete: Commodity or Human,” and coach Alexa McClaughry’s softball team.

“The panelists did so well and helped make the event successful,” said McClaughry. “My team was able to have a discussion following the panel, and I believe they walked away empowered.”


‘It’s a social justice issue’

One of the four panelists was Heather Benning, commissioner of the Midwest Conference, of which Monmouth is a member. She, too, referenced the power given to women when discussing the importance of Title IX.

“At the end of the day, it’s a social justice issue. We feel this in so many ways in this society, which for the past 150 years has had to legislate to treat people fairly,” said Benning, citing, in particular, the 14th and 19th Amendments, which made former slaves citizens and which gave women the right to vote. “We have these things because we don’t always approach life and say ‘This is right.’ We need to have these discussions about change.”

Other panelists included former Fighting Scot athlete Raven Robinson ’14 and two representatives from the National Collegiate Athletic Association – Joni Comstock, the NCAA’s senior vice president for championships and its senior woman administrator, and Louise McCleary, the interim vice president for Division III.

“It’s a forgotten part of history, but Title IX is language that changed our understanding of gender. Actual change was slow, and there is still work to be done.” Simon Cordery


Former Monmouth student-athlete Michelle Perry ’89, a member of a Monmouth committee organized to plan the celebration of the Title IX anniversary, was director of NCAA Division I women’s basketball for 10 years and helped secure Comstock and McCleary’s involvement in the discussion.

SIMON CORDERY: Now chair of the history department at Iowa State University, he coached the first... SIMON CORDERY: Now chair of the history department at Iowa State University, he coached the first women's soccer team at Monmouth for seven years.Former Monmouth professor Simon Cordery, who in 1994 took the reins of the College’s new women’s soccer program and led it for seven years, moderated the panel discussion.

“It’s a forgotten part of history, but Title IX is language that changed our understanding of gender,” said Cordery, now chair of the history department at Iowa State University, in his opening remarks. “Actual change was slow, and there is still work to be done.”

“We have to be vigilant about that work,” said Comstock.

“The experience for men and women should look the same,” said Benning. “Sport is sport.”

“Change is not always easy,” agreed McCleary, who is the first woman to lead the NCAA’s Division III, the division in which Fighting Scots teams compete. “It takes courage.”

“At the end of the day, it’s a social justice issue. We feel this in so many ways in this society, which for the past 150 years has had to legislate to treat people fairly.” Heather Benning


Over the next 50 years, said McCleary, even more representation is needed from women in head coaching positions and in athletic administration.

“The other thing is money,” she said. “We’ve had great progress over the last 50 years (in terms of making things more equitable), but more progress is needed in that area, as well.”


Teaching women to take risks

In some cases, the change sparked by Title IX was immediate. Comstock and Benning were both coached primarily by women, with Benning playing high school volleyball in Colorado in the late 1980s for legendary coach Lo Hunter, “an amazing mentor” whose teams put together streaks of 182 consecutive wins and eight state titles. There were also female athletic directors at both of the colleges Benning attended.

“My experience was not like that of a lot of other women at the time,” said Benning. “It was like a green light was welcoming me. People who looked like me were doing things that I had a passion to pursue.”

Comstock, who was in high school in the 1970s, remembers the initial impact of Title IX.

“Through being able to participate in sports, women learned to both win and lose, and to go on from both of those. Women are willing to take risks.” Joni Comstock


“We didn’t have any organized sports until Title IX came about,” she said. “I played basketball, and that first season, we had 10 games. We were thrilled. Since then, the opportunity to participate has changed dramatically.”

Female participation in high school athletics increased from 294,015 in 1972 to 3.4 million in 2019. Ten-game prep seasons have developed into 30-game schedules. On the evening of Feb. 2, for example, the girls basketball team at Monmouth-Roseville High School had a 20-7 record, with four games remaining in the regular season.

“Through being able to participate in sports, women learned to both win and lose, and to go on from both of those,” said Comstock. As a result, she said, ‘Women are willing to take risks. … I’ve seen doors opened for me, and in my career, I’ve tried to provide opportunities for others to do the same.”


Advice for students

Robinson is part of a generation that has always known abundant opportunities in women’s athletics. Unlike Comstock and Benning, she competed for a male coach, Brian Woodard, as a track and field athlete at Monmouth, and she appreciated his approach.

“I didn’t feel he treated me any differently,” said Robinson, who developed into a five-time All-American. “He treated us like athletes. Up by 6 a.m. to hit the weight room, things like that. We felt empowered as women, and we were empowering each other.”

“The discipline you have to have as a student-athlete allows me to excel now at work. I put my best foot forward, and I try to leave my mark.” Raven Robinson


She uses the lessons learned as a Fighting Scot athlete to this day.

RAVEN ROBINSON: The five-time All-American at Monmouth now works at Washington University in St. ... RAVEN ROBINSON: The five-time All-American at Monmouth now works at Washington University in St. Louis.“The discipline you have to have as a student-athlete allows me to excel now at work,” said Robinson, who is the associate director of the visit experience at Washington University in St. Louis. “I put my best foot forward, and I try to leave my mark.”

In that respect, said Robinson, she “competes,” no matter if she’s wearing a red and white track uniform at a stadium or dress clothes in the office.

“You can still be an athlete at heart,” she stressed to students who might be nearing the end of their careers in organized sports. “It doesn’t have to stop.”


‘Dream big’

McCleary encouraged today’s students to “dream big and to vocalize what you want to do. That’s important. If you don’t verbalize it, it makes it hard for those dreams to come true. What I try to do is open doors so women who are really talented have a place to shine. We should aspire to support each other to our highest dreams. I will always engage with a woman who says, ‘Can you help me?’”

McCleary shared a Louisa May Alcott quotation she has in her office: “I am not afraid of storms, for I’m learning to sail my ship.”

“Try to tamp down that fear of failure,” she said of its meaning. “If you have that inner drive, say ‘Let me stretch myself, and let me find others who will stretch me.’”

Once students find themselves in an organization or committee, or even out in the post-college world at a job, McCleary encouraged them to speak up.

“We need to be intentional and really look at an issue and make a commitment to change it. And that’s not just issues related to gender, but other things that are going on in this country at the moment.” Louise McCleary


“Find ways to help whoever is supervising you,” she said. “Come up with solutions and use your voice. You have a seat at the table. Let’s hear what you have to say about it.”

Like Benning, McCleary said the positive outcomes from a major legislative change 50 years ago should drive today’s society toward what else can be done.

“If we’re not intentional on our campuses, there’s the danger of falling back on the excuse ‘That’s the way it’s always been done,’” said McCleary. “We need to be intentional and really look at an issue and make a commitment to change it. And that’s not just issues related to gender, but other things that are going on in this country at the moment.”

Watch The Panel …

Watch the Feb. 2, 2022, panel discussion “Title IX Turns 50! Celebrating Women in Athletics.”

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