"You know why the hard questions must be asked. It is not altruism; it is self-preservation—survival."
—Audre Lorde, Oberlin College Commencement Address, 1989
Last week, we celebrated the 51st anniversary of Title IX, the groundbreaking U.S. civil rights law that ensured women's right to equal opportunity in federally funded education and educational activities, including sports. In just 37 words, Title IX laid the foundation for gender equity in education, unequivocally prohibiting discrimination based on sex in any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance. Today, the hard questions start with: “Who is still standing in the way of and fighting against equal opportunity, and why?”
As a former women’s basketball player at the University of New Orleans, former and first African American female AD at Dillard University and Holy Names, and the Senior Associate AD and Senior Woman Administrator at the University of Cincinnati, I’m used to asking hard questions. Audre Lorde's words deeply resonate with me. In many ways, they help illuminate my journey, the challenges I faced, and the importance of my continued self-advocacy and fight for justice.
During my tenure at the University of Cincinnati from 2007 to 2012, I had the honor of managing 10 of the 18 sports, 3 of the 7 units, and a $1.8M Title IX and Gender Equity Plan. I drove relentless efforts to advance the initiatives of Title IX that led to remarkable achievements. USA Today ranked the University of Cincinnati's Department of Athletics number one in the country for women coaching women’s teams in 2013-14. This recognition came as a result of an impressive 80% increase in the number of female head coaches, equity salary adjustments, and a comprehensive marketing and development plan. I’m proud to know that the impact of that intentional work continues today.
I share these achievements because as we celebrate the undeniable advances thanks to Title IX, we must also underscore the arduous nature of advocating for gender equity and equality. In my role as Senior Woman Administrator, I regularly found myself in opposition to male coaches, administrators, and budget directors. Even some younger female staffers weren't automatic allies: some prioritized being liked over being principled, while others sought to replace me at every turn.
Hell, I even faced my own personal challenges as I fought for an equitable salary increase and the resources I needed to fulfill my responsibilities. I want to be unequivocally clear here: these kinds of successes, accolades, and achievements always come with danger, particularly for leaders driving significant changes within their organizations. This holds true, especially for leaders of color.
For those leaders still in intercollegiate athletics, I want to leave you with that one hard question: “Who is still standing in the way of and fighting against equal opportunity, and why?”
Always remember that the system in which you work relies on your silence and complacency and expects deep expressions of gratitude for even incremental changes. Remember that the fight for equality and justice continues. Challenging and dismantling inequitable systems requires your active and sustained participation. It requires that you ask the hard questions, over and over again. It demands you wage a conscious and courageous fight.
Audre Lorde knew that true progress cannot be achieved through the preservation of the status quo—in education, in sports and in our democracy. She also understood that when we question unjust systems and institutions, we secure our survival and empower others to fight for a more equitable world. #navigatecourage