By Leah Gutknecht, Title IX officer, University of Northern Iowa

Leah Gutknecht

Title IX states, “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.” That’s it — 37 words.

How do 37 words begin to cover everything necessary to ensure that individuals are not treated differently on the basis of sex in their pursuit of an education? Most of us did not learn about Title IX in school other than maybe hearing about gender equity in sports. While sports are a vital part of Title IX, it goes much further. 

For example, Title IX provides supportive measures and rights for those who have been subjected to gender violence, including sexual harassment, sexual assault, dating and domestic violence, and stalking. It provides assurances that individuals who are harmed have access to resources, resolution options and remedies. 

Title IX turns 50 this year. Has anything changed in those 50 years? 

Reporting an act of gender violence is much more acceptable for students in 2022 than it was in 1972. More students are willing to report their experiences and more of their peers are more apt to intervene or report on behalf of others. We have a clearer understanding of what gender discrimination is and we’re in a better position to address issues as they arise. And yet we must continue our prevention efforts and educating students about gender discrimination and violence. College students are at a high risk for gender violence

Until 2011, schools carried out those 37 words without clear explanation of how to put those words into action. In 2011, the Obama administration released a series of guidance documents that emphasized the need to address sexual assault and gender violence head-on. Many schools and universities rose to the occasion, ramped up efforts and rewrote policies. 

In 2020, the Trump administration took things a step further and enacted regulations that now have the force and effect of law rather than just guidance. Those original 37 words were translated to 30-plus pages of actual regulations that tell us how to carry out those 37 words. Another 2,000-plus pages of preamble tells us how to interpret the 30-plus pages of regulations that tell us how to address the 37 words of law. And now in 2022, we’ve been told the rule-making process will begin again for changes to the 2020 regulations. 

While the federal government continues to debate on how best to regulate Title IX, I ask you to consider how we can collectively and individually have an impact on the next 50 years. 

What can each of us do to bring more awareness to gender discrimination and gender violence? How can each of us work toward eliminating the actions and behaviors that require us to have Title IX regulations in the first place? 

I challenge you to continue learning more and doing more. Visit sites like It’s On Us or No More to learn about the issue and how to take action. 

What 37 words describe your plan for the next 50 years?

Leah Gutknecht is the Title IX officer at the University of Northern Iowa, where she serves as the assistant to the president for compliance and equity management. In her role, she oversees the functions of equal opportunity, affirmative action, compliance with Title VII, Title IX and the Americans with Disabilities Act, as well as the university’s prevention efforts for discrimination, harassment and sexual misconduct. Gutknecht holds certifications as a civil rights investigator, mediator, and Title IX officer and serves on the advisory board of the Association of Title IX Administrators.

Categories: Guest opinion