“You come on too strong for a woman,” were the words that shattered Bernice Sandler, a part-time professor at the University of Maryland, and propelled her to pave a path of equal opportunity for women.

Despite her qualifications in psychology and counseling, in which she held a P.h.D, she was repeatedly denied a full-time professorship and told her “resume lacked professionalism.”

Sandler wrote

I bemoaned the fact that I had spoken out at staff meetings with suggestions for improving procedures. I laminated the times I discussed teaching and professional issues with faculty members. I regretted my participation in class as a graduate student. In short, I accepted the assessment that I was ‘too strong for a woman.’ 

She joined the Women’s Equity Action League (WEAL), heading up the Action Committee for Federal Contract Compliance. While studying the civil rights movement, Bernice discovered that President Johnson’s Executive Order 11246 outlawing discrimination in federal contracting included sex discrimination. She realized that universities that accepted government contracts were behaving illegally.

At WEAL, Bernice began filing lawsuits to try and force compliance with federal non-discrimination mandates, ultimately suing more than 250 institutions. 

At the same time, Bernice began working with members of Congress to investigate widespread sex discrimination in education and build support for legislation that would prohibit the practice.

Out of these efforts, Title IX was born.

The simple statute, signed into law in 1972, states: 

“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.”

“I had no idea that this rejection would not only change my life but would change the lives of millions of women and girls,” Bernice wrote.

Today women make up 44% of tenure-track faculty and 36% of full professors. Moreover, 30% of university presidents and 50% of heads of departments are women.

Bernice Sandler’s courageous battle against sex discrimination in academia is a powerful reminder of the progress made and the challenges that persist. 

It is because of Title IX that women across America no longer need to worry if they’re  “too strong of a woman.” They no longer need to view their intelligence and grit as a weakness. They are legally protected from discrimination rooted in stereotypes. 

Over fifty years after the signing of Title IX, the struggle against sex-based discrimination continues, as seen recently in our battle to preserve women’s sports

Our fight is far from over, but we press on.

By learning from the past, we can forge ahead, confident that our voices and actions will shape a more fair future for women in education.