Panel Celebrates 40th Anniversary of Title IX

By Fritz Parker

Monday, Sept. 24, Middlebury hosted a panel discussion celebrating the 40th aniversary of the passing of Title IX, the 1972 legislation affording equal rights in education and, therefore, athletics for men and women.  The event, “40 Years of Title IX — Legacy and Outlook,” featured five panelists, each providing a unique perspective on the legislation and the four decades since its creation.

Associate Director of Athletics and Senior Woman Administrator Missy Foote kicked off the panel with a synopsis of her 36 years at Middlebury, beginning with her experience after being hired to coach swimming and basketball in 1977, when Middlebury featured eight women’s teams that shared one locker room. Foote shared a story about taking a 17-member basketball team to a road game in a 15-passenger van, suggesting that such treatment was common for women’s teams at the time.

“Since I came to Middlebury, women have had a net gain of seven sports,” said Foote. “New facilities have been built, coaches have been hired and resources have been more equitably allocated to accommodate the athletic interests of our female students.”

Foote spoke of the growing popularity of women’s sports since Title IX passed when she was a college undergraduate.

“In 1972 when Title IX was passed, almost 300,000 girls participated in high school sports,” said Foote. “Now that number is three million. Six times as many college women participate in sport now as in 1972.”

Foote cited Middlebury’s 19 women’s national championships and the inordinate contribution of the school’s women’s teams to last year’s Directors’ Cup victory as evidence of progress in the 36 years since her arrival.

“Physical strength and athletic prowess means femininity at its best,” she said.

Foote posited a large deficit in the number of female collegiate coaches as evidence that there still was work to be done, a sentiment echoed by panel moderator Associate Director Emerita of Athletics Gail Smith, one of Middlebury’s first female coaches.

“The model of coaching didn’t take into account the complexities in a woman’s life,” Smith said.

Assistant Nordic skiing coach and 1984 Olympian Patty Ross described her experience as the nation’s only female collegiate skiing coach, including a failed push to even the race distances between men’s and women’s competition.

“They told me, ‘There’s no room for feminism in Nordic skiing,’” said Ross.

2012 Olympian Lea Davison ’05 related her own athletic journey, from her time on the Middlebury alpine ski team to this summer’s London games, where she finished 11th in cross-country mountain biking. Davison was optimistic about United States women’s historic performances in London, where women accounted for 29 of the US’s 46 gold medals and over 44% of participants overall.

“It gave the rare chance for women’s sports to be broadcast all over the world,” said Davison. “My only question is why we’re only doing this every four years.”

Davison, along with her sister Sabra Davison ’08, also runs the “Little Bellas — Mentoring on Mountain Bikes” program, which serves to help young women through participation in cycling.

Alumna and NCAA Woman of the Year Finalist Margo Cramer ’12 concluded the panel with a brief history of the Title IX legislation, as well as a look forward towards its 50th anniversary in 2022.

“I think it’s important to understand the history and have a nuanced view of what the effects have been so we can continue to move forward,” said Cramer.