From left are Supervisor Holly J. Mitchell, Kamilah Willingham, Jennifer Siebel Newsom, Dr. Ange-Marie Hancock Alfaro and Nancy Hogshead-Makar. (Glenn Marzano/MSMU)

Top women leaders examined the progress of gender justice during a panel discussion sponsored by Mount St. Mary’s University and The Representation Project on June 29.

Billed as “50 Years of Title IX,” the speakers shared insight on the legislation enacted in 1972 to prohibit sex-based discrimination in any school or education program that receives federal funding. The 90-minute conversation revealed that while females have made incredible strides, the level of resources dedicated to women studies and women athletics still pales in comparison to men in the same category.

The program featured Jennifer Siebel Newsom, first partner of California; L.A. County Supervisor Holly J. Mitchell, Ange-Marie Hancock Alfaro, PhD; Nancy Hogshead-Makar, Olympic champion and civil rights lawyer; and Kamilah Willingham, feminist writer, speaker and activist.

“As the only women’s university in Los Angeles and one of the most diverse in the nation, we know first-hand that women thrive when given the resources and opportunities to succeed,” said Dr. Linda McMurdock, MSMU vice president for Student Affairs, in welcoming remarks.

She also noted how the focus of Title IX  has changed over the past half-century from emphasizing gender equity in sports to being most known as protection against gender-based sexual harassment, sexual violence and interpersonal sexual misconduct.

Serving as moderator, Mitchell said, “When Title IX passed, it really talked about funding in all places that federal dollars are applied. That goes beyond women in sports. It’s really huge and in the world of athletics, it’s absolutely profound.  Tell us why Title IX is so important to what you do,” she asked, directing the question first to Willingham.

The young activist explained that her grandparents, who were medical doctors, believed strongly in education and inspired her to work on behalf of others.  Her goals faltered after she was raped while attending Harvard Law School, however, she recovered and now focuses on assisting survivors of gender-based violence.

“My entry to activism was through addressing Title IX, its potential, what it could be and the way we were failing to implement it. I’m happy about where I am, but I think about where I could be, what I could have accomplished if my twenties hadn’t been sunken and dragged down by the trauma of what I went through,” noted Willingham, who was featured in the 2015 documentary, “The Hunting Ground,” where she told her story of surviving sexual assault as a college student.

Hogshead-Makar also experienced rape as a college sophomore, but fortunately Duke University officials helped her to heal.  The Olympian attributes the school’s response to the fact that she was White and wealthy.

“As a result, all of things that most rape victims need I got. Two years later, I won three gold medals in the 1984 Olympics.  But for [Title IX], I wouldn’t have healed. I owe so much to this statue and I want to make sure other generations get what I got,” said Hogshead-Makar, the founder of Champion Women, which provides legal advocacy for women and girls in sports.

Offering comparable insight, Siebel Newsom credited the legislation with aiding her successful career as a high school and college athlete as well as contributing to her self-esteem.

“Born in 1970s, I completely benefitted from Title IX. I played soccer at Stanford and sports gave me so much confidence, believing that I deserve to have a seat at the table of power with any man. That’s a beautiful gift and I’m so grateful to stand on the shoulders of the women before me,” she said. As founder of The Representation Project, Siebel Newsom makes impact films challenging gender roles and stereotypes.

The comments by the panelists totally resonated with Dr. Ashley Warren Joseph, director of Women’s Leadership and Community Engagement at MSMU, and Whitney Moore-White, a manager with L.A. County Workforce Development.  Joseph and Moore-White often applauded or nodded indicating agreement as the speakers’ stressed the importance of Title IX.

“As someone who works at a university and especially a university for women, it is imperative the we remember Title IX. Many of our students are impacted by it  and will be impacted by it throughout their lives. So, preparing them, educating them, having events like this will keep that momentum going for years to come,” observed Joseph.

Moore-White added, “Title IX is very important because it not only covers educational institutions such as colleges and universities, but it covers educational programs, some of which are used in the workforce. So, it’s very important that women have access to a wide variety of training and educational opportunities related to the workforce and that they be protected from bias related to sexual discrimination.”