Title IX is about STEM Too

Over the last 40 years, Title IX has brought well-known changes to women’s and men’s sports. What fewer people realize are the other areas in which Title IX is intended to help improve inequities in education — by enforcing compliance reviews that stop sexual harassment and bullying, protecting pregnant and parenting teens, and narrowing the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) achievement gap.

There are many STEM careers that help people and solve world issues, but a lot of girls aren’t aware that these careers exist, nor do they know how to begin on that path. Education and enforcement of Title IX rights in the classroom can help end the influence that stereotypes have on teachers and guidance counselors — stereotypes that keep these mentors from helping girls make the connection between their dreams and STEM fields of study.

Girls are more likely to take biology, chemistry, and precalculus in high school than boys are (I took all three), but these classes often do not translate into a college major in a STEM field. If these girls are anything like me, they viewed such courses as prerequisites for college instead of the beginning of a career path. AAUW’s research report Why So Few? Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics details the reasons why women drop out of — or never enter — the STEM pipeline. Title IX enforcement can improve many of these problems. For example, the personality career tests that guidance counselors commonly give to help determine where students’ skills lie may feed into stereotypes and violate Title IX if the tests indiscriminately place girls out of STEM careers.

After-school programs, summer camps, activities, encouragement by parents, and role models are crucial for fixing the STEM pipeline for women and girls. But Title IX enforcement must play a larger role if we ever wish to see true change in schools.

Mae Jemison, center, the first African American woman in space, testifies about Title IX before the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee.

Title IX was a part of the Education Amendments of 1972 and is now 20 years older than me. When I was old enough to play sports, I didn’t feel like I faced gender discrimination — in fact, I thrived. I never had to fight for the ability to play on a softball team. I knew that Title IX and its advocates made this possible for me, but I wish I had known more about the law’s reach. Like me, many people are only now learning how far Title IX can go to make education more equitable, just as it has done and continues to do for sports.

Here’s what everyone should know: Under Title IX, schools that receive federal funding must ensure equity in STEM education for all students. Stereotypes and biases, no matter how small, threaten equity and equal opportunities for girls. Title IX enforcement is only possible with the help of communities to keep schools in compliance. That’s where you come in. Read up on Title IX to find out where it’s been and where it’s going — because it’s not just about sports but ensuring that everyone gets a fair shot.

This piece was reposted form AAUW.