Celene Reynolds is a PhD candidate in the Department of Sociology at Yale with research interests in social change, law and organizations, and gender and sexualities. She studies why anti-discrimination are used and interpreted differently in organizations over time. Her dissertation and book manuscript focus on Title IX–the 1972 U.S. civil rights law that prohibits sex discrimination in education–and examine why its implementation shifted from a focus on fostering gender equity in athletics to regulating sexual harassment, including assault, on college campuses. A related article won the American Sociological Association Sex and Gender Section Sally Hacker Graduate Student Paper Award. Her work is supported by the National Science Foundation, the National Academy of Education/Spencer Foundation, and the Horowitz Foundation for Social Policy. She has published in Social Problems, Organization, Qualitative Sociology, and Socius.
Title IX is the 1972 U.S. civil rights law that prohibits sex discrimination in education, and it’s been called one of the most significant steps toward gender equality in the last century. But it remains unclear how the law actually functions, particularly how it’s been used to combat gender inequalities in the academy.
My research provides the first systematic analysis of the mobilization of Title IX across higher education. I draw on a new data set I constructed using information acquired through the Freedom of Information Act. The data include all resolved Title IX complaints filed with the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights from 1994 to 2014.
The mobilization of Title IX has changed both in frequency and in kind during this period. The number of Title IX complaints has been rising since 2000, exploding after 2009 and reaching a record high in 2014. People are increasingly turning to both Title IX and the federal complaint process as tools to address sex discrimination in higher education.
Complaints citing discrimination in academics were the most common type of complaint filed for nearly all of the last 20 years, until 2014 whenever sexual harassment, academics, and athletics complaints reached near parity. Importantly, sexual harassment is neither a new concept nor a new arena of legal mobilization under Title IX, dating back to the 1977 landmark case of Alexander v. Yale University.
Finally, the mobilization of Title IX is institutionally uneven: relative to enrollment, a disproportionate number of complaints refiled against private, more selective schools as well as those located instates with higher numbers of women serving in the legislature.
By rigorously mapping how Title IX has been mobilized, this research takes a crucial first step towards understanding the law’s capacity to reduce gender inequality in higher education.