Title IX Has A Disparate Impact–for Black Women

It has dramatically increased the number of white women (and girls; surely women even today remain girls until some point in their K-12 school years) playing on sports teams, but “most of those teams, especially those at the college level, have remained overwhelmingly white.”

Title IX, it turns out, hasn’t benefited female athletes of color nearly as much as it has their white teammates. And the resulting gap, says one legal scholar in a newly published book, poses a challenge for those who rally passionately around the law.

This news comes from yet another report of yet another “gap” we have to worry about, with its inevitably accompanying “disparities,” in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Narrowing the Gap, which features a new book, Getting in the Game: Title IX and the Women’s Sports Revolution, by Deborah Brake, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh.
“Title IX did not introduce problems of racial inequality into our nation’s school system,” Prof. Brake acknowledges. “The problem is,” she argues, “Title IX doesn’t do anything about it, either.”

If proponents of gender equity want to achieve Title IX’s goals for women of all races, Brake writes, they’ll need “a dose of social-justice feminism” to broaden their advocacy beyond the letter of the law. Otherwise, she says, racial disparities that are deeply rooted in the K-12 educational system—where sports offerings in urban and low-income areas are scant for boys, and even more limited for girls—will continue to thwart female athletes’ access to sports at the college level….
In a section about Title IX’s impact on minority women, Brake argues that the status quo in gender-equity advocacy won’t do much to fix cracks in the pipeline to women’s collegiate teams.

The problem with Title IX, which deals with gender equity in sports, appears to be that it focuses too narrowly on … gender and sports. Brake told the CHE author, Jenny Sander, that two problems explain the “shortfall” of minority women:

“One is that Title IX itself focuses on gender in isolation. The second is that Title IX advocacy has really focused on sports in isolation,” she says. “When we use Title IX to try to push for gender equality in sports, unless we’re going to also incorporate strategies of racial justice, we’re going to end up benefiting the most-privileged girls.”

In short, to Prof. Brake, as to virtually (probably literally) all of the authors of studies and reports about various racial “gaps” and “disparities” (and now “shortfalls”), “racial justice” no longer has anything to do with an absence of racial discrimination. Now it means racial proportionality.
Prof. Brake’s book is yet another example of something I noted on Minding The Campus back in June (“‘Gender Gap’ Mania”):

the American higher education establishment and those who report on it and write about it “suffer from gap mania. Everywhere they look there is some ‘gap’ to be corrected, and some uncorrected, often hidden (read ‘structural’) discrimination causing it.”

Who would have thought, however, at least before Prof. Brake, that the gender gap-closing Title IX would create increasing “disparities” between the sports participation of black and white women?
At the core of what might rudely be called the black woman jock gap, i.e., the increasing “shortfall” of black women athletes in school and college, lies the troubling fact that black women’s choice of sport is not diverse enough for Prof. Brake, who wants pressure brought to bear on K-12 education to offer “a diverse range of sports.”

It’s not that Title IX has left minority female athletes behind completely, Brake points out. They now have far more athletic opportunities than in the pre-Title IX era. The sports they play, however, reveal a narrow scope of participation, she says: Nine out of 10 black women who play college sports, for instance, compete in either basketball or track….
In the meantime, the increasing prevalence of what Brake calls the “country-club sports” in college programs — rowing, soccer, lacrosse, and swimming, to name a few—has also largely bypassed nonwhite female athletes. At the high-school level, those sports are popular among girls in affluent suburbs, but not in urban areas or at cash-strapped public schools with limited athletic programs. In fact, many of those sports are not offered in high schools at all, only in private club programs.
Of the 10 college sports for women that experienced the most growth from 1995 to 2004, Brake writes, only two — softball and volleyball — had rosters that were more than 10 percent minority. All the rest, which included some of the fastest-growing sports for women, like soccer and lacrosse, had minimal participation from minority groups.

The problem of black girls and women choosing — or, if you prefer, being channeled by active or passive bias or otherwise blocked from participation in alternatives by “structural” barriers — a more diverse collection of sports is strikingly similar to the incessantly lamented “shortfall” of women in the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, math).
At the core of the “disparities” in the STEM fields, as on the playing fields, is that women’s own choices do not result in proportional representation everywhere. In an excellent article on this site April 5, “On Women, STEM and Hidden Bias”, Susan Pinker convincingly pointed out how a typical recent lament about the “underrepresentation” of women in STEM fields implicitly denigrated the choices many women freely make. And on that same day in the same place, in “The Misguided Push for STEM Diversity”, I discussed a number of other examples of officious handwringing over gender “disparities” in science that reflected a disrespect for the choices women themselves made. In a particularly egregious example, I noted that

feminists and friends were up in arms about a “controversial” report from the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights that endorses surveying women’s interest in sports in determining compliance with Title IX. The commission’s report argues that “since female students are fully capable of expressing interest in athletics, or lack thereof, advocates for particular views on Title IX compliance should not devalue or dismiss their perspectives.” Determining what women actually want is “controversial,” however, because it might impede the preferentialists’ desire to impose their version of “equity,” i.e., proportional representation in sports, whether or not the desire and interests of the students is proportional.

Alas, I am not the only one to notice the similarity between gender “gaps” in STEM fields and on the playing fields, which has led to a misguided effort to “diversify” science education with the heavy hand of Title IX enforcement. Even our current Educator in Chief, back when he was a Senator, praised the success of Title IX in increasing female participation in sports and added that “Title IX has the potential to make similar, striking advances in the opportunities that girls have in the STEM disciplines.” (Quoted in a statement by Abigail Thernstrom, Vice Chair of the U.S. Commission of Civil Rights, included in the Commission’s report, Title IX Athletics: Accommodating Interests and Abilities.)
As Christina Hoff Sommers noted in 2008 (“Why Can’t A Woman Be More Like A Man?”), this “title-nining” of science education would be a disaster.
Unless the choices women make of what sport to play (including the choice not to play) are the result of discrimination of some sort, why should the fact that black women choose more often than Prof. Brake would like to play softball or basketball be a federal case? Exactly why, that is, do we need a critical mass of black women rowing or playing lacrosse or soccer? Why should it be a concern of the federal government, via Title IX, to create a “pipeline to women’s collegiate teams” — and not just the teams they currently choose but a sufficiently “diverse” collection of teams to satisfy those who idea of “equity” and “racial justice” is proportional representation?
Title IX, lest we forget, is designed to enforce civil rights, not promote social engineering. It was passed in 1972 as part of the Civil Rights Act, which in turn was passed in 1964 to prohibit discrimination. Its operative content 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….

At the risk of sounding naive or radical, or both, wouldn’t it be nice if our anti-discrimination laws could be restricted to their original purpose of combating discrimination?

John S. Rosenberg

John Rosenberg blogs at Discriminations.

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