Hawaii has a special connection to “Title IX”, passed June 23, 1972 – forty years ago – which opened up life-changing opportunities for youth, especially girls, to pursue their dreams in education and sports. Also known as the Patsy T. Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act, Hawaii’s own Patsy Takemoto Mink was the principal author and driving force behind the legislation. Mink worked tirelessly for education reform during her political career and overcame gender and racial discrimination to become the first woman from Hawaii elected to Congress. She also has the distinction of being the first woman of color and the first Asian American woman elected to Congress.
Title IX, a federal law, works in conjunction with the Equal Protection Clauses of the U.S. and Hawaii Constitutions to ensure that all students, regardless of their sex, have access to equal educational opportunities. Both are critical tools in fighting ongoing and pervasive gender discrimination in education.
Living up to Title IX’s requirements has been challenging for Hawaii’s schools. Fortunately, our youth are up to the task of ensuring that schools treat them fairly and equally. In 2010, three Baldwin High School softball players, their parents, and their coach charged the Hawaii Department of Education and the County of Maui with sex discrimination under Title IX. While the boys’ baseball team practiced at the 1,500-seat Iron Maehara Stadium with batting cages and an air-conditioned press box, the girls’ softball team played at a rocky, non-regulation county park field a mile away from the high school – a situation that clearly sent the message that male athletes were more important than female athletes.
The suit was a victory for student athletes and for gender equity in Hawaii’s schools. As a result of the settlement, $1 million was provided to construct a new softball field on Baldwin’s campus (the field was finished earlier this year). Lahainaluna High School, Moanalua High School, Nanakuli High School and Molokai High School will also see improvements to their softball facilities pursuant to Title IX.
Mink’s legislation started a revolution on the nation’s playing fields, leading to a nearly 90 percent increase in participation by young women and girls. But there are other components of Title IX that are just as vital.
Title IX has helped make students safer from gender-based violence and harassment by requiring schools to have policies – and to take action – against sexual harassment, sexual assault, and bullying by both staff and students. This includes harassment based on stereotypes about how boys or girls ought to look or behave, and it protects students whether they are male or female, lesbian/gay/bisexual or transgender.
Title IX can also be used to address the disturbing trend of creating separate classes for boys and girls. These programs, which are often based on inaccurate scientific claims about supposed differences between boys’ and girls’ brains and learning styles, promote egregious gender stereotypes.
This is exactly the type of discrimination that Title IX was intended to combat —practices such as steering girls into home-economics classes and boys into wood shop.
Finally, Title IX protects pregnant and parenting students from being pushed out of school and forced to curtail their education. Approximately 70 percent of girls who give birth leave school, which can have devastating consequences for them and their families. Sometimes these students are funneled into inferior education programs or are ostracized by students and staff. Under Title IX, such treatment is unlawful.
Girls and boys deserve an equal opportunity to receive a quality education in a safe and respectful environment free of sex stereotypes. Patsy Mink steadfastly led the country to rise up to the challenge of ensuring that all youth are treated fairly and equally in schools. The fact that, forty years later, youth must still confront gender bias in our schools shows that Hawaii must vigilantly re-dedicate itself to Title IX’s cherished ideals.
Vanessa Chong, Executive Director, American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii
Jo-Ann M. Adams, Esq., Law Offices of Jo-Ann M. Adams
Betty Depolito, Director, Flhi Girlz TV
Veronika Geronimo, Executive Director, Hawaii State Coalition Against Domestic Violence
Carolyn Martinez Golojuch, President, PFLAG-Oahu
Michael Golojuch, Jr., Chair, GLBT Caucus of the Democratic Party of Hawaii
Renaé Hamilton, Executive Director, YWCA of Kauai
Rob Hatch, Legislative Representative, Honolulu Pride
Karen Holt, Executive Director, Molokai Community Service Council
Stacey Moniz, Executive Director, Women Helping Women Maui
Jadine Nielsen, Chair, Patsy T. Mink Political Action Committee
Jeanne Ohta, Co-Chair, Hawaii Democratic Women’s Caucus
Beppie Shapiro, President, League of Women Voters of Hawaii
Valerie Smith, Co-Chair, Equality Hawaii Foundation
Tambry Young, Citizens for Equal Rights
Gail Gnazzo, Maui
Steven H. Levinson, Associate Justice, Hawaii Supreme Court (Ret.)
Barbara Franklin, Esq.