Bridging Theory and Practice: Law Students Advocate for Women Athletes

Applying knowledge about Title IX to make change

Gender and the Law is one of my favorite courses to teach, but this year’s class has set the bar exceedingly high for years to come. These students have taken what they  learned in the course and chosen to apply it to advocate for women athletes on UC’s campus.  When they found out that during renovation of Fifth Third Arena, the men’s basketball team would play at Northern Kentucky University’s comparable venue but the women would be sent to play at a local high school, they wanted to take action.  

Their response showed me how  much they had learned this semester. First: they realized that UC’s move may violate Title IX, which prohibits sex discrimination in any federally funded education program or activity. And, second, they saw first hand how feminist legal theory bridges practice and theory.  In this instance, they channeled their concern about that female athletes were being shortchanged into action. With my very limited help, the students organized, setting up a Google document, doling out assignments, and identifying allies on campus.

The final product is a letter to UC’s General Counsel Lori Ross– you can read it below. And, if I say so myself, it’s pretty impressive.  Just another example of the terrific students we have the privilege of teaching at Cincinnati Law.  Just another day at the office.  I couldn’t be prouder.

 

Dear Ms. Ross:

The undersigned students write to protest the University of Cincinnati’s decision to relocate its men’s basketball team to Northern Kentucky University’s facilities while relegating its women’s basketball and volleyball teams to St. Ursula Academy. We are concerned that the University’s actions, which outwardly appear to favor the men’s team with superior facilities, could violate Title IX.

As you know, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any education program or activity by recipients of federal funding. As applied to athletics, Title IX requires equivalence in the availability, quality and kinds of other athletic benefits and opportunities provided to male and female student athletes. This standard includes equivalence among competitive and training facilities. 34 C.F.R. § 106.41. Courts routinely hold that providing inferior facilities for women’s teams violates Title IX. See, e.g., Ollier v. Sweetwater Union High Sch. Dist., 768 F.3d 843 (9th Cir. 2014).

We understand that the University has articulated nondiscriminatory reasons for its decision. Among the proffered reasons are that SUA is close to campus and that their gym is adequate for the women’s purposes. We note that proximity did not seem to be a consideration for the men’s team, and question why the women’s teams cannot play in any of the gyms at other colleges in the area.

We do not deny, of course, that the men’s basketball games have typically attracted larger crowds. To that end, the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights has acknowledged in its 1979 Policy Interpretation that competitive facilities may be different, but that a school may violate Title IX if the women’s facility’s capacity “limits the potential for women’s athletic events to rise in spectator appeal.” By moving the women’s teams to SUA, the University of Cincinnati has done just that.

The University is already undergoing OCR scrutiny over allegations of its mishandling of Title IX complaints. With its choice to have two Division I women’s teams play in a high school gym, the University does further harm to its commitment to gender equity. In light of the image projected by recent circumstances, we fear that qualified students of all genders will choose to spend their tuition dollars elsewhere. As the foregoing suggests, Title IX requires the University to find a better solution. The women’s basketball and volleyball teams must be given a space to practice and compete that does not send a message to the athletes—and the community at large—that women athletes are less valued at UC.

Sincerely,

Liza Asbury Newman, College of Law ‘17

Christina N. Harrison, College of Arts & Sciences ‘17 / College of Law ‘18

Zachary Weber, College of Law ‘18

Kalisa Mora, College of Law ‘18

Emily Roberts, College of Law ‘18

Silvia Arieira, College of Law ‘17

Sol Andrew Ouzounian, College of Arts & Sciences ‘18

Ashton Tucker, College of Law ‘18

Zachary Cuni, College of Law ‘18

Sophonie Bazile, College of Arts & Sciences ‘17

Taylor Gross, College of Law ‘19

Daenayia Hudson, College of Law ‘17

Alanna Best, College of Law ‘18

Katie Gaines, College of Law ‘18

Sam Barrons, College of Arts & Sciences ‘17

Flavia Ibyara, College of Law ‘17

Katelin Gedon, College of Law ‘18

Andrea Brown, College of Law ‘17

Charlie Schreiber, College of Law ’17, Miami University Student Body President 2013-2014

Marisah Ali, College of Law ‘18

Olivia Lawson, College of Law ‘18

Brendan Chisholm, College of Law ‘17

Verjine Adanalian, College of Law ‘17

Sherry Porter, College of Law ’17

Erin Patterson, College of Law ’17

Author: Verna L. Williams

Interim Dean, Nippert Professor of Law, co-founder and co-director of Cincinnati Law's Center for Race, Gender, and Social Justice. Professor Williams joined Cincinnati Law's faculty in 2001. She teaches Constitutional Law; Gender and the Law; and Family Law. Her research examines the intersection of race and gender in law and society.

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