40 years later, DePaul employees recall the early days of Title IX
May 30, 2012
Title IX, the federal law passed in 1972 mandating gender equity in student services and academic programs, forever changed the landscape of college athletics and opened opportunities for women and many men.
On June 23, the nation will recognize the 40th anniversary of Title IX’s approval. The anniversary is meaningful to several DePaul employees who were student athletes here in the 1970s and experienced the changes as they happened.
DePaul is known for its strong support of women’s athletics, and that was the case even before Title IX existed, says Athletic Director Jean Lenti Ponsetto, who played basketball, volleyball, tennis and softball at DePaul from 1974-78. After graduation, she became assistant coach of the women’s basketball team and today is one of the few female athletic directors at a Division I university.
Law spurred changes that widened opportunities
Lenti Ponsetto chose to attend DePaul for college because it already offered women’s athletics during an era when other universities were only beginning to add women’s teams. “I wasn’t sure how quickly Title IX would affect DePaul, but I knew there already was recognition on someone’s part here that women’s teams had value,” she says.
During her freshman year, Lenti Ponsetto noticed DePaul’s commitment to women’s sports through the actions of coaches Millie Shemluck and Jean Nordberg, the only two women in the Department of Physical Education at the time. Shemluck and Nordberg would invite high school girls to DePaul to play sports with the college women. The interaction encouraged a mentoring relationship, Lenti Ponsetto says.
The next year, Athletic Director Gene Sullivan added scholarships for female athletes. This was the most noticeable effect of Title IX to Anna Marie Frank, associate professor in the Department of Physical Education, who played volleyball and was a gymnast at DePaul from 1973-77.
“Our coach approached the best female volleyball player in the city of Chicago and said, ‘Are you interested in going to college?’” Frank says. “He was able to bring in high- quality players. The following year, two more girls were on scholarships.”
As Title IX increased opportunities for women’s athletics, more coaching opportunities became available. Frank began coaching after graduation, joining Western Illinois University as a graduate assistant coaching volleyball. “I was impressed with the amount of money available for women’s sports just a few years after Title IX’s passage,” she says.
DePaul’s history of supporting women’s athletics
Lenti Ponsetto says DePaul has exhibited a progressive stance toward women’s athletics throughout her career here. She recalls the Rev. John T. Richardson, former president of DePaul, telling her to do what it took to make all athletes feel important and part of the DePaul program. For example, as the university added more women’s teams, it expanded facilities to accommodate more lockers.
“DePaul has a strong value system rooted in social issues,” she says. “That’s not to say we didn’t have to do the legwork and put in the time and effort to provide scholarships and increase operating dollars, but there was always an openness and willingness.”
Lenti Ponsetto later served on the NCAA’s Champions Cabinet and NCAA Women’s Basketball Committee. In reflecting on her service, she says, “DePaul always gave me confidence to do the right thing. I knew I’d have the support of my university if I made statements in support of equitability and inclusiveness.”
Other effects of Title IX
Title IX also benefited men’s sports, she says. Athletic directors and administrators saw the progress being made for women’s sports, such as full scholarships, full-time coaches and new facilities. It encouraged them to add the same benefits to men’s sports that had been marginalized. Baseball, soccer, golf, tennis, track and swimming all received a boost when Title IX passed, Lenti Ponsetto says.
Aspects of university life outside athletics also improved for women. Title IX applied to student organizations and other university programs, which paved the way for more women to become involved in student government or to explore majors other than education and nursing. “Without Title IX, you’d see far fewer women in leadership positions in all walks of life, whether in government, business or health care,” Lenti Ponsetto says.
College athletics wouldn’t look the same either. The number of college women participating in athletics is nearly five times the pre-Title IX rate, according to the National Women’s Law Center.
Still, challenges exist. Lenti Ponsetto says more women should hold athletic director positions at universities. “I look at my colleagues who are capable of running athletic programs, and they don’t get the chance,” she says. “That’s something I’d like to work on going forward.”
The National Association of Collegiate Women Athletics Administrators (NACWAA) will honor Lenti Ponsetto in October for her contributions to gender equity. She won the Title IX Trailblazer Tribute contest after a video tribute to her garnered more than 180,000 views in two weeks. DePaul will receive a $9,000 gift from the NACWAA Foundation Fund in support of the university’s women’s athletics program and/or female staff professional development.