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Title IX has been around 50 years. Has it done enough to protect Black women?

NIU students marched in opposition of the university's handling of Title IX cases in 2019
Sarah Jesmer
NIU students marched in opposition of the university's handling of Title IX cases in 2019

50 years ago, Title IX passed to protect people from sex-based discrimination. Dr. Jessica Brown is VP for student affairs and athletics at North Central College. She penned an article this year about how Title IX hasn't fulfilled its promise to Black women. WNIJ education reporter Peter Medlin asked her how colleges and universities can do better.

Dr. Jessica Brown (JB): Well, it starts with believing black women, and understanding their experiences. You know, there is a long history of lack of trust and lack of just normalizing that the Black woman actually exist in this space --- and we contribute to this space. And so, for me, it’s establishing that trust.

You could start establishing that trust with Black women by making sure they understand that not just Title IX, but all policies and procedures within higher-ed, are for them as well. Then make sure when those situations are happening, people who are witnessing and hearing these things take some of the burden and speak up.

Peter Medlin (PM): I think about the two lenses of Title IX: athletics and sexual assault and harassment. You mention establishing trust and go over in the article how Black women are least likely to report sexual violence, even though they're among the most likely to experience it.

JB: Yeah, well, first of all, we have to kind of dismantle the perception around rape culture, and reporting culture. That's step one. Then it's looking back to what I've already said: you have to believe them. You have to lead with that.

I think, oftentimes, Title IX officials and other college officials, particularly in athletics, sometimes think that their opinion matters when it comes to these types of cases. Your opinion doesn't matter. That's not your job in this particular space. Your job is to support. To take that report, to support that student, provide advocacy, help prevent its reoccurrence, and navigate and manage the policy as that student comes forward with that situation.

And then I would take it to the next step, which is education. Are the education materials, the climate of who's hosting those educational opportunities designed to be inclusive? When you're talking about reporting -- what the process is going to look like? Have you allowed for the Black woman sitting in that session to see herself in that policy? That takes some skill. That's being inclusive about what type of examples that you use, what type of language are you using. Then it's that third prong, where I think we've completely fallen short: a lot of folks know about these things. A lot of folks hear about these things. But we're often silent and we don't want to step out and really advocate and be that active ally for those individuals who have worked up the courage to come in and report.

Dr. Jessica Brown
North Central College
Dr. Jessica Brown

PM: And then getting into the athletics, you talk about how policies that are intentionally discriminatory towards Black female athletes are still implemented at a lot of colleges and universities. Do you want to dive into that issue?

JB: Yeah. I want to be clear, when you look historically at how athletic departments were designed at colleges and universities -- they were built by Black and Brown folks, but they were developed by white folks. So, naturally, there are not a lot of women in these seats, particularly at the Division 1 level. You get a natural level of exclusion just by who is leading these departments.

I want to dive deeper into this and look at it from a student athlete lens. Every college and university program coach has their own policy, some of which are normalized by the Athletic Director, some of which are not, depending on how your department is run. But when you lump in the support for student athletes and writing policies for student athletes, you've taken off their own identity. Unfortunately, the marginalized folks, particularly Black women, have been penalized for that. They've been naturally left out of the conversation on multiple layers.

We know that with Title IX, although it's been implemented, we still face a lot of women's issues in athletics. I like to use the example of what we deem asappropriate business attire through the white male business lens is not supportive of the Black woman who wants to come into the space with what is deemed Black business attire that may be more identifiable with her Black culture. That’s one that right away you see that conflict of you’re supposed to dress up for game day and wear business attire, but that business attire isn't necessarily supported through the lens of your own culture. You see those types of small nuances woven throughout different athletic departments that over time significantly impact their overall experience.

Another area where I see this is particularly in medical and athletic training. That was one of the emerging themes for my dissertation: we have Black women who are going in for support around injuries and just trying to make sure they can sustain through those four or five years. And we're seeing discriminatory practices show up on how they care for Black women in comparison to some of their white counterparts.

PM: Can you go into a little bit more detail about that, specifically with athletic training?

JB: Yeah. One of the things, as I mentioned, throughout my dissertation process Black women were speaking up about how they were in pain, or they had an injury. And whether it was coach saying, ‘Oh, you're not really that hurt,’ or you have AT or your medical staff folks saying, ‘well, it's not that big of a deal’ and taking longer to respond to their injuries, or even maybe not putting them on the right injury recovery plan.

But yeah, the common theme that came from just, again, small sample size, was that they're expressing their level of pain and how it's affecting themselves when they tear their ACL and they need support administrators and athletic training staff are kind of forgetting about them and that they exist in the space. You're only a value when you're a part of that roster and not when you're injured. So, there's a lot of conversations to dive deeper into.

Peter joins WNIJ as a graduate of North Central College. He is a native of Sandwich, Illinois.