As the University of Wisconsin celebrates the 50th anniversary of Title IX, students, alumni and the athletic department have reflected on the success of UW women’s athletics and the progress UW has made.
Congress passed the Education Amendment Acts of 1972, including Title IX, which prohibits discrimination within educational programs on the basis of sex in a program receiving federal assistance. The legislation does not include the word “athletics,” but sports programs associated with federally funded universities had to match resources between men’s and women’s programs.
UW Athletics has been hosting events throughout the year to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Title IX, including a fundraising campaign that will run through the end of the year to impact Badger women, according to the UW Athletics website.
The 50th reunion of the UW class of 1972 featured a panel made up of alumni and student-athletes in September who discussed the impacts of Title IX, the progress UW athletics has made, and the disparities that still exist.
During the Badger vs. New Mexico State football game, the UW honored past members of the athletic community and celebrated the impact they had on UW women’s athletics.
Senior Administrator for Women Katie Ahrens Smith said women’s sports have benefited greatly from the enactment of Title IX legislation as it expanded opportunities for women within the UW athletics department.
Throughout her past 25 years in UW athletics, Smith has worked in various athletic programs, which has allowed her to see the rise of many winning NCAA teams such as women’s hockey and volleyball. She currently works with the soccer and volleyball programs.
Author and UW alumnus Doug Moe said the accomplishments of these teams would not have been possible without the work of the athletes who came before them, as UW was slow to implement women’s programs after Title IX passed.
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This summer, the Big Ten Conference hosted the first big ten Women’s Leadership Summit in celebration of the 50th anniversary. Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren highlighted the mission of this year’s summit and the Big Ten Conference in general within the realm of women’s athletics in a press release.
“This event is a celebration of the 50the anniversary of Title IX and a reflection of our unwavering commitment to providing transformational educational experiences and opportunities for growth to our student-athletes,” said Warren..
Women’s soccer player Emma Jaskaniec was one of three students who represented UW at the summit. Hearing about the struggles ex-women have faced trying to access the same resources and opportunities as male athletics reminds her to be thankful but also not to stop persisting.
Jaskaniec believes that the UW has improved resources for women’s programs and has good policies. But she continues to see inequities between her team and her male counterparts.
Having played twice in the Big Ten Championship and the NCAA Soccer Sweet 16, the only time Jaskaniec flew on a charter plane was during the pandemic. His friends from the University of Washington men’s soccer team had been flying charter planes since their freshman year, even though they didn’t qualify for these tournaments.
“I think the first time I chartered a plane was during COVID, and the only reason was because of… some weird rule that they had to force us to charter, but the men’s team had been chartering since my freshman year,” Jaskaniec said. “I was always confused [as to] why we never got to, and never will get to this year.”
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The inequalities between men’s and women’s athletics extend beyond the boundaries of the UW.
During the 2021 NCAA basketball finals, the organization faced heavy criticism over disparities in weight room and other amenities between the men’s and women’s tournaments, according to NPR. Several players drew attention to the disparities and poor facilities in the NCAA tournament, as their gym facilities lacked size and equipment.
According to NPR, the NCAA responded to the criticism by apologizing for the events that occurred during the tournament and pledging to address inequities.
Within his experiences with the volleyball program, Smith has seen all of his championships reviewed by the NCAA.
“Having been fortunate enough to have been to three consecutive Final Fours with our women’s volleyball team, we noticed improvements being made in the women’s volleyball championship. [this past year] in Columbus. So while we saw that nationally, we have witnessed movement in a positive direction,” Smith said.
After the passage of Title IX, former University of Washington Chancellor Edwin Young established a committee in July 1972 to elevate women’s athletics.
“The chairman of the committee was Elroy Hirsch, who was the men’s athletic director,” Mo said. “He had no real vested interest in it.”
The committee only met once in the eight months after it began. Shortly thereafter, the US Department of Civil Rights filed a complaint against UW for violating Title IX in April 1973, according to UW Badgers. Two weeks later, Young established a new committee to further investigate women’s athletic programs that met 18 times that year.
Although club athletics existed for UW female students prior to 1974, intercollegiate competition did not exist in athletics, as society feared it could harm women’s reproductive systems, according to UW Archives.
Saunders-Nordeen was announced as Wisconsin’s first women’s intercollegiate athletic director on May 3, 1974. A month later, the uw athletic department officially added women badminton, basketball, cross country, fencing, field hockey, golf, gymnastics, rowing, swimming and diving, tennis, track and field, and volleyball programs.
Forty-eight years later, the Wisconsin crowd set the NCCA regular season attendance record ia volleyball game at the Kohl Center on September 16. Smith described the match as “magical”.
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“To sit at that score table and look up and see over 16,800 fans enjoying it, especially the young women or girls that I saw in attendance, thinking how they can imagine themselves dreaming of being in that environment one day.” Smith said.
Despite losing that game, volleyball has represented the growth of UW athletics over the past 48 years, Smith said.
While UW athletics has no current plans for volleyball to play at the Kohl Center again this season, Smith anticipates it will return in the future.
“I think we will always consider ways to grow and elevate the sport,” Smith said. “We currently have no plans in place to do this more frequently. I think it will. It will be something to consider doing more of in the future.”