Vice President Joe Biden spoke at the Smith Center Tuesday afternoon, announcing a repeal of a Bush-era policy that allowed universities to rely on student surveys to prove they were meeting the gender equality law known as Title IX.
The announcement, which also featured remarks from Senior Adviser to the President Valerie Jarrett and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, restricts the ways in which schools can show compliance with Title IX. Schools must now show the amount of female athletes is proportional to the amount of women on campus, or show a history of continually adding women’s sports teams.
Previously, schools had a third option: Survey the student body to prove the institution had met the athletic interest of women on campus. While schools can still survey students, that can no longer be their only method of proof.
Because GW shows its compliance through the proportion-based option, the policy change does not directly affect the University, University President Steven Knapp said.
At the hour-long event, attended by about 350 people, Biden spoke of how important sports are to the women in his life and how athletics build confidence and character.
“Making Title IX as strong as it possibly can be is the right thing to do,” Biden said. “We’re going to make sure that this is flexible, that the absolute best effort that could be possibly made is being made to make sure women in college are given the opportunity that they deserve.”
At GW, where females comprise about 56 percent of the student body, there are 12 women’s sports teams and 10 men’s sports teams. About 51 percent of athletic scholarships are awarded to female athletes, according to a fact sheet released by the University.
Bonnie Morris, a women’s studies professor and expert on Title IX, called the policy change fantastic, and said the survey was an attempt to avoid the other options.
“Sending the survey as an e-mail. you might get a very low return and the assumption might be, okay, no women are interested,” Morris said. “So the problem is first, the technology assumes people are going to respond, but also men don’t get that survey, and men are assumed to be interested. Women have to prove that they’re worthy of equality.”
Biden referenced the coinciding of the announcement with Equal Pay Day – a day to bring attention to pay gaps between men and women – and said today should also be “Equal Play Day.”
“We gotta make sure all the women and girls know about their potential by being able to test that potential,” Biden said.
The U.S. Olympic Women’s Hockey team, along with GW and D.C.-area athletes, schoolgirls and Girl Scouts joined Biden on stage. Before the ceremony, local female athletes played basketball and volleyball and practiced cheers on the court of the Smith Center.
Duncan said Title IX is one of the greatest civil rights success stories.
“This reaffirmation of long standing policy will help to bolster Title IX and insure that educational institutions that receive federal financial assistance do not discriminate on the basis of sex,” Duncan said. “I can think of no other institution, apart from the military, that does as much to shape our future leaders as intercollegiate athletics.”