Susan Lee

Susan Lee, Title IX Coordinator
Convocation Remarks
August 31, 2015

Thank you for your kind introduction President Gearan.  Like many of you, I am new to the Colleges.  This summer I have been warmly welcomed by our vibrant, caring community.  I know that like me, you will love it here.

As you reflect on the start your college experience or the start of a new year, many of us are reflecting on our college days. As the Title IX Coordinator, I particularly remember what it was like to be a woman (actually adult females were called girls then) to be a woman during my first year at Purdue University.

Women students had a curfew, men did not.  The doors to the women’s dorms locked at midnight.  If a woman were five minutes late and had to ring the doorbell, she was referred to the judicial board. There were essentially no athletic programs for women in high schools or colleges.  But one of the oddest things was that at Purdue there was dress code for women, but none for men. Women were not to go into the library in slacks.  A skirt or a dress was required. It was absurd.

But I was a part of a group of women who made a point of wearing slacks anytime we went to the library….and of going to the library a lot. And the next year there was no dress code for women. Then, we lobbied to change the curfew imposed only on women and we succeeded.  I can still remember the joy of walking across a silent campus with two women friends, out to get a burger at 3am ….just because we could.   We made changes.

These early successes seeded my passion for social justice and led to exciting experiences in the years since graduation… working for fair housing, lobbying for the League of Women Voters and ultimately to my current career.  Sometime ask me about working for the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment in the last state that passed the ERA– by one vote…. Or lobbying to block a couple of environmentally disastrous reservoir projects. Working together with like-minded people, we accomplished significant things.

To remind me of this, I keep in my den a plaque with this quote from Margaret Mead, an anthropologist and a woman ahead of her time.  She said “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

Title IX of the Education Act was one such significant change. Title IX simply requires: no discrimination on the basis of sex at all educational institutions receiving federal funds. At the time of its passage Title IX challenged our culture and caused an uproar, mainly about athletics.  People claimed that women were either not capable, or were not interested in becoming athletes. Others argued that if women were allowed to enter the realm of athletics, it would ruin athletics for men. We now know those fears were absurd.

Then we thought that Title IX protected women.  Now we know Title IX protects the rights of men, women and people of all genders, of all gender expressions and gender identities, and people of all sexual orientations. Then Title IX profoundly changed American education for the better.  But now there is more work to do.

Today I challenge you to become change agents. Take to heart your Bystander Intervention training.  Speak up. Be a leader. Create a future where the thought of sexual violence and relationship violence occurring anywhere would be absurd.  Create a future where the thought of racist, misogynist and homophobic cultures would be absurd.

You can lead us to a time when fully inclusive, safe and respectful college communities will be as natural as women staring in sports and going to the library dressed as you please.  I look forward to working with you on that charge.