On January 5, 2019, a truly phenomenal woman passed away at the age of 90. And she truly did live an extraordinary life for those 90 years. Dr. Bernice Sandler, born in New York almost a century ago, became one of the most prominent activists. She was most known for her work with equal rights on campus, granting her the name “godmother of Title IX.”
When Sandler first began her advocacy work in the ’60s, there was an influx of inequality in the workplace and in institutions of education. Limitations such as being pregnant, being married, or simply being a woman, could disqualify you from being a candidate. Obviously, such discrimination is illegal now but was not then. Pregnant and married women were thought to be too overwhelmed to do well at a career. Many men also believed that if a woman had a job, it would distract her from being a good, hospitable wife and mother. Dr. Sandler noticed these discrepancies, as well as the facts that one, men got much more funding for better facilities, and two, the exam standards were higher for women to be accepted into university. Of course, that was done on purpose. They stopped women from getting an education for so long, and then the few who worked hard to go to university often did not get in due to rigged exams and stating that women needed higher scores than prospective male students. Dr. Sandler also had her own experiences with discrimination in the workplace, often being told that her personality was too brash for a woman, or having her education and knowledge be dismissed. For these reasons, she started doing work to bring equality between genders on campuses and offices. After a lot of hard work, and breaking boundaries, Title IX was finally passed in 1972.
Title IX states that “no person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” This was absolutely groundbreaking. Though the definition may sound kind of vague, it paved the path for better training for administrators, more awareness and aid for sexual assault victims, and being able to actually report discrimination and see some sort of action.
Things aren’t perfect, but Dr. Bernice Sandler laid the groundwork for what we need to keep striving toward. She was a great woman who lived a great, full life, and I hope to make half the impact she made, even on one person.
Dr. Sandler’s Title IX: How We Got It and What a Difference it Made, Clev. State L. Rev. (2007).