Boston University School of Law
Educating for equality to foster practicing equality must be a vital task for the next fifty years of Title IX. It is also a task that fits into the mission and expertise of schools as educational institutions. I use “educating for equality” as shorthand for the role of schools in preparing children, adolescents, and college students to participate in and build a world in which—to echo Title IX’s “37 words that changed everything”1—“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.” 2 While Title IX’s mandate of participation and inclusion3 has a specific reach, educating for equality should aspire to reach more broadly to prepare children, adolescents, and college students to practice equality—and equity—in their daily lives. In describing this task as educating for equality, I borrow from the recent “Educating for American Democracy” initiative, aimed at educating young people “to participate in and sustain our constitutional democracy” in order—in the language of the Constitution’s Preamble—to make our union “more perfect.”4 While that initiative seeks to foster “reflective patriotism” and “excellence” in U.S. civics and history, its emphasis on cultivating critical thinking and awareness of “hard histories” of inclusion and exclusion and issues of agency, power, and oppression are pertinent also to educating for equality aimed at fostering Title IX’s goals.5
In the context of the Title IX responsibility of higher educational institutions to prevent and address sexual harassment, my colleague Naomi Mann has criticized traditional approaches that are “identity-neutral” and “powerevasive.”6 She calls instead for schools to analyze how power and identity interact, studying the broader college ecosystem. In Sexual Citizens: A Landmark Study of Sex, Power, and Assault on Campus, growing out of the pioneering SHIFT study (Sexual Health Initiative to Foster Transformation), Jennifer S. Hirsch and Shamus Khan also argue for an “ecological model,” which “situates individuals, along with their problem behaviors, in the broader context of their relationships, their pre-college histories, the organizations they are a part of, and the cultures that influence them.”7 It is an approach attentive to the multiple dimensions of power and the “multiple hierarchies” in the “ecosystems” in which sexual assault occurs.8 They persuasively argue that institutions have a responsibility to foster young people’s “sexual citizenship,” which denotes “the acknowledgement of one’s own right to sexual self-determination and . . . recognizes the equivalent right in others.”9
In this essay, I will argue that these recommendations offer helpful guidance for a proactive, ecological, and intersectional approach to the education that schools should undertake to help realize Title IX’s goals of equal participation and inclusion and to prevent problems of sex discrimination—including the ongoing problem of campus sex-based harassment and sexual violence. I will also observe that, while the legislative climate in some states seems conducive to such education, the climate in other states—evidenced by laws restricting what may be taught in schools about race, gender, and sexual orientation— presents obstacles to such education.
Linda C. McClain,
Title IX and the Challenges of Educating for Equality
Boston University Law Review Online
Available at: https://scholarship.law.bu.edu/faculty_scholarship/3561