Study tracks Title IX use across US colleges and universities

June 1, 2018, Yale University

Title IX—the U.S. civil rights law passed in 1972 that prohibits sex discrimination in federally funded education programs—has been widely recognized as a crucial step toward gender equality in America. A new Yale study tracks the changing use of Title IX over time in response to perceived gender disparities, and for the first time, systematically analyzes how the law has been mobilized at the federal level through complaints filed against four-year non-profit colleges and universities.

Published in the journal Social Problems, the study drew from a new data set that was constructed using information acquired through the Freedom of Information Act. The data include all resolved postsecondary Title IX complaints filed with the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights (OCR) against allegedly noncompliant schools from 1994 to 2014.

"Since the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare first defined Title IX compliance requirements for intercollegiate athletics in 1975, this law has been under constant debate, which necessarily affects how it can be mobilized," says Celene Reynolds, graduate student in the Department of Sociology and author of the paper.

"Title IX has been at the forefront of national debates in part because there was an effort to further specify and clarify its requirements under President Barack Obama as well as a growing social movement around campus sexual assault. Now we are in the midst of another moment of change under Betsy DeVos, [the U.S. secretary of education appointed by President Donald Trump]," says Reynolds.

"This study is important to the future of Title IX because there is an ongoing effort to change the way we put the law into action—with DeVos's withdrawal of Obama-era guidance—but we don't actually really know how it has been used," she says.

Reynolds traced the use of Title IX since 1994 and found that Title IX has been mobilized in response to different issues over time. She also discovered that Title IX complaints have increased substantially over the past 15 years. "Complaints citing discrimination in academics were the most common type filed for nearly all of the last 20 years, while athletics complaints were the least commonly filed. Complaints alleging schools violated the law by mishandling sexual harassment began to rise in 2006, skyrocketing in 2009, and nearly equaling athletic and academic filings by 2014," says Reynolds.

According to Reynolds, this new research fills an important gap in the sociological literature and illuminates a pressing social transformation affecting campus life across America. "This study shows how a powerful legal tool is employed in response to perceived gender inequality in higher education and illustrates the specific kinds of disparities that elicit legal mobilization.

The mobilization of Title IX is institutionally uneven relative to student enrollment, with the study's findings showing that more complaints are filed against private schools that are highly selective," says Reynolds.

"This article has significant policy implications in that it shows that certain types of schools tend to face higher numbers of specific kinds of complaints. The analysis suggests that the problem of in higher education may look different in different institutional settings," says Reynolds. "It is important that top-down efforts to modify Title IX allow schools some autonomy to implement the law in ways that address the idiosyncrasies of local institutional cultures."

Reynolds says the paper also shows how important this legal tool is for those who experience discrimination. "More people are turning to Title IX and to the OCR complaint process as tools to address sex discrimination in education. It's important that this remains a viable and fair process."

Explore further: Study examines response to sexual violence on campus

More information: Celene Reynolds, The Mobilization of Title IX across U.S. Colleges and Universities, 1994-2014, Social Problems (2018). DOI: 10.1093/socpro/spy005

Related Stories

Study examines response to sexual violence on campus

February 2, 2016

To address concerns over sexual violence on college campuses, higher education institutions are required to appoint a Title IX Coordinator to investigate incidents, but few are trained to deal with the broad range of offenses ...

Study shows strong school identity can help NAPLAN scores

December 12, 2016

Ahead of National Assessment Program, Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) results due to be released on Tuesday, new psychology research has found a surprising new factor that can lift student NAPLAN scores by as many as 10 points.

Obama targets college sexual assault epidemic (Update)

January 22, 2014

President Barack Obama shone a light Wednesday on a college sexual assault epidemic that is often shrouded in secrecy, with victims fearing stigma, police poorly trained to investigate and universities reluctant to disclose ...

Recommended for you

University choice and achievement partly down to DNA

October 18, 2018

Research from King's College London has shown for the first time that genetics plays a significant role in whether young adults choose to go to university, which university they choose to attend and how well they do.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.