Leveling the Playing Fields
Title IX hits fortieth anniversary
- By Jon C. Reidel
As UVM’s dean of women in the late sixties and early seventies, Jackie Gribbons was well aware of the inequities between the men’s and women’s athletic programs. Budgets were smaller for women, scholarships fewer, and facilities poorer. It wasn’t out of the ordinary for the women’s teams to carpool to games toting bag lunches and compete in their practice pinnies.
UVM President Ed Andrews appointed a task force on women’s athletics in 1971 — a full year before Title IX, the landmark legislation aimed at eliminating sex-based discrimination in education, was passed, putting the university well ahead of most athletic programs nationwide.
“The discrepancies were appalling and they were right in front of us, but I wanted to complete the task force so it was on the record and formally pointed out to justify our recommendations,” recalls Gribbons, who chaired the task force that evaluated all aspects of women’s athletics and other activities on campus. “Even the men had to admit that things weren’t fair and many of them supported our efforts. Bottom line: it was about ethics and fairness.”
Change didn’t come immediately, however, as attested to by some of the women who, during Reunion and Homecoming Weekend, will attend a fortieth anniversary celebration of the passage of Title IX. Jane Condon recalls coming to UVM in 1967 to start a new physical education program in the College of Education and trying to launch women’s teams in basketball, volleyball, softball, lacrosse, soccer, tennis, golf, and cross-country skiing with teacher volunteers and no budget. Tennis and dance were already offered at Southwick Gym, where the basketball court was so small that the walls served as the sidelines.
Condon describes the pre-Title IX years as exciting and driven by a love of sports, but frustrating in terms of advancement. Even after the law’s passage, it would be years until any visible signs appeared. “Title IX was slow to be seen, not just heard,” says Condon. “Many promises were made, but nothing really happened until about 1978. The male coaches always made more than we did, but we always got along with the men and they were respectful of women and our desire to gain and grow, and always helped us when they could. It (Title IX) gave us the opportunity to play — just for the love of the game.”
The lengthy implementation process, according to Gribbons and then-assistant athletic director Rick Farnham ’69 G’77, both of whom were tasked with making the university compliant within a year, was due in part to the ambiguity of the law and lack of funding to implement it. “Title IX was about a lot more than just athletics,” says Gribbons. “It was meant to address the equity and equality of services, benefits, programs and activities in higher education, and that’s pretty broad.”
Farnham said then-athletic director Denis Lambert was aware of the discrepancies and felt strongly that women should be treated equally “because it was the right thing to do, and because women paid the same about of money as men for their education and should be treated equally.” Lambert would eventually merge the men’s and women’s programs, even up the number of teams at thirteen apiece, and add twelve new scholarships for women.
Janet Terp ’80, a multi-event track star, was a beneficiary of one of these scholarships, receiving one following her first season. “It takes a village and UVM was truly a village when it came to Title IX,” says Terp, who works as chief of staff for administration and advancement in the arts and sciences development office at Dartmouth College. “There were so many ambassadors and heroines that took the time to teach and mentor me and who made Title IX work. It led to new resources for women that allowed us to train better. Other institutions didn’t let women go to nationals. UVM said, ‘We want to support you.’ I came back from nationals thinking, ‘Wow UVM is way ahead of everyone else and cared enough to support me.’ UVM would have done it anyway, but the law was needed to push it along and provide some framework. Title IX was a real game changer academically, athletically, and professionally for me and so many other women.”
Val Turtle ’72, who was captain of the field hockey team and played four other sports, notes that despite the advances brought about by Title IX, it’s important to remember that there remains room for progress.
“You remember the expression ‘you’ve come a long way baby’? Well, we still have a long way to go,” Turtle says. “Title IX opened up the doors, but there were definitely pros and cons to it. I do think it allowed women to have a better standing in athletics even though it wasn’t set up just for sports. The glass ceiling isn’t always glass anymore, and I think women are breaking through more often, and that’s as it should be.”