by Tia Will
Sunday’s Enterprise had an article that caught my attention. The article, “Second Straight Second Place,“ highlighted our DHS women’s second place finish at the cross country nationals. This is a direct testament to the determination and hard work of the individual women racers and an indirect measure of the willingness of the broader community that supports them. It reflects the support of their parents, their coaches, their school and the society at large that has recognized over a number of years that support for women athletes is as important as it is to men. It is a testament to those who believe that sports should be about excellence and not solely about how much money can be raised by commercial/professional sports.
This has not always been the case. Growing up in a traditional conservative household in the 50’s, it was made clear to me that athletics were not for women. It is true that I was encouraged to practice and excel in a physically demanding discipline, that of ballet. But it was crystal clear that sports were for men. This was reflected not only in my own family, but in how sports were funded and thus who had access to monetary support for their interests.
It was not until 1972 with Title IX that women’s sports gained the beginning of an equal footing with the support of men’s athletics.
Several posters here on the Vanguard have derided the institution of Title IX. It is my feeling that without it, there are multiple areas of female endeavor that would not have been possible. This is true not only in sports but also in other fields. I have direct experience with the kind of discrimination that Title IX helped to end having been told up front by mentors and program directors that I would not make it into medical school, and certainly not into a surgical field because of my gender. Fortunately, I was not applying until 10 years after the implementation of Title IX and the start of a fundamental societal change in perception of gender roles..
With all the recent controversy over our most recent Chancellor, Linda Katehi, what I believe all can agree on is the effectiveness of her advocacy for the advancement of women on campus in general and in the STEM fields in particular. As Chancellor, Ms. Katehi carried on a proud UCD tradition of being a leader in promoting women in STEM fields. This tradition began before my arrival in 1979, when 50% of our medical class members were women. Women were the majority in the Vet School and were prominent in chemistry, making an entry into soil science, and gradually increasing in other STEM fields.
At another point in our local and national story, the Enterprise article would likely have escaped my attention. But now, with the Republican student group’s invitation to Milo Yiannopoulos to speak on campus seemed an important time to express an appreciation for the accomplishments of our young women and the community that is helping them to succeed. If you are not familiar with the ideas of Mr. Yiannopoulos allow me to set the stage:
Now there are probably some who will say that this is “just verbal bomb throwing” as a way to gain attention, and that he does not mean any of this. I feel many of his followers would disagree, and the fact that Republican group on campus is certainly taking him seriously enough to issue an invitation to speak. As a firm believer in our First Amendment right to freedom of speech, I welcome Mr. Yiannopoulos to campus. I am eager to hear his remarks on a campus where so many women are engaged in STEM fields of study as they have been for many years. Perhaps in alignment with the advice we have heard on the national level to “wait and see” he will have a different message here and will disavow his previous writings and videos. I would be surprised, but then I have been surprised a lot by recent events.
My advice to those who value the efforts of our young women: Keep an open mind about campus and community speakers who all have the right to express their ideas in public. Accept graciously any movement towards a more rational and equitable approach to education and job opportunities for all. If all you hear are ideas designed to confine women to the home or limit their opportunities in any way, be prepared to stand up publically and privately in opposition to these pernicious ideas.
To the young women themselves, I advise: Do not let the words of those who would put down, trivialize, or limit the endeavors of young women intimidate or demoralize you. You can succeed in attaining your goals and living the full life that you desire for yourself. I am only one woman. But I am one example demonstrating that, regardless of gender, with enough determination, work, and yes, some luck and societal support, you can have the career and life you want – be it in sports, medicine, tech, or the military. Do not ever let anyone set or limit your priorities for you. Only you can define and achieve your best life. And on that note: Go Blue Devils, Go Aggies!