At Two-Year Colleges, Less Scrutiny Equals Less Athletic Equality

Community colleges face unique problems in providing athletic opportunities to their students. As the Title IX blog points out, two year colleges generally have a “non-traditional student body, of which women make up the majority–often a large majority, [which] has lead many community colleges to believe they cannot possibly comply [with Title IX]. Additionally, community colleges are facing the same–if not worse–budget issues as four-year institutions.” However, the blog rightly notes that these challenges do “not mean they are exempt from providing their female students with opportunities to play sports.” Yet the New York Times revealed that many community colleges, due to lack of scrutiny about their compliance with Title IX, have significantly more athletic opportunities for their male students than for their female students.

Los Angeles Southwest College is one of the community colleges that do not offer enough athletic opportunities for women. Women make up two-thirds of their student body but only a quarter of their athletes. The college suspended their track team this year which left women at the school with basketball as the only sport they have the opportunity to participate in. Henry Washington, the school’s athletic director and head football coach said that fewer options for women are available because fewer women than men are interested in playing sports at the college. He “acknowledges that his program is most likely violating federal law by failing to offer enough roster spots to women. But he said many of the female students are also juggling jobs and child care, and do not have time to play sports.”

But federal statistics reveal that men at community colleges face the same challenges that women do. Indeed, “the men work, too, and tend not to be any younger. And yet the men, despite similar hardships or responsibilities, still manage to play sports in significant numbers.” Karen Sykes, a former president of the National Junior College Athletic Association doubts that many community colleges are putting in a genuine effort to give women more athletic opportunities. She told the New York Times that two-year colleges “were willing to make a halfhearted effort and then willing to accept the consequences.” Frank Harris III, an assistant professor at San Diego State University said, “If institutions and community colleges wanted to really provide those opportunities to women, and if there was some value in that from their perspective, they would find a way to do it.”

By denying women equal athletic opportunities, two-year colleges are neglecting to provide equal opportunity to reap the positive effects that research has suggested participation in sports creates. These effects include better health, improved self-esteem, better grades, and better jobs after graduation.

Pensacola State College in Florida is an example of how a community college, despite the unique challenges it faces, may create equal athletic opportunities. The school has recently had to deal with budget cuts and a population that is “supposedly less eager to play sports” because they “tend to be older” and “overwhelmingly female.”  Yet, they recruit throughout the state for talented female athletes and invest one million dollars a year in their athletics program. Bill Hamilton, the Pensacola athletic director, told the Times that “success had not come without struggle. But abiding by the law is a priority. ‘We don’t do things around here because it’s easy,’ he said. ‘We do things because it’s right.’”

Community colleges need to be scrutinized to ensure that they are not violating Title IX. As Jaime Lester, an assistant professor at George Mason University who has studied gender issues at community colleges said, “It’s crucial to hold these democratic institutions — these bastions of people’s colleges — up to that level of scrutiny…If we don’t hold them up, why should we hold anyone else up?”

Learn more about the Women’s Law Project’s efforts to ensure equity in athletic programs.

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The Women's Law Project creates a more just and equitable society by advancing the rights and status of all women throughout their lives. To this end, we engage in high-impact litigation, advocacy, and education.
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