University of Minnesota Alumni Association


From the President

Reflecting on Title IX

Joan T.A. Gabel

A half century ago, amid an ongoing campaign against gender discrimination, one of the most important pieces of civil rights legislation in American history emerged. The profound changes Title IX has helped to bring about, including dramatically increasing the number of women completing postsecondary, graduate, and professional degrees, have greatly benefited our University community and society as a whole.

These contributions have been felt everywhere, but especially in the legislation’s important impact on women’s athletics.

Title IX and women’s athletics were established at the University of Minnesota 50 years ago this academic year. Women’s athletics began through the physical education department in 1971, which received a budget of $5,000 from the University’s Board of Regents reserve fund. Soon thereafter, swimming and diving were established as the first official women’s varsity intercollegiate sport, and over the next 29 years, the University added 12 women’s varsity sports, most recently rowing in 2000.

Collectively, Gopher women’s athletic excellence has yielded seven national titles, 64 conference championships, and 16 individual national championships, and most recently, a women’s volleyball Final Four—in addition to the broad range of meaningful educational and cocurricular opportunities provided for female student-athletes.

Over time, heroes have emerged that exemplify the Gopher Way, with facilities that bear their names: the Jean K. Freeman Aquatic Center (swimming & diving), Ridder Arena (women’s hockey), Elizabeth Lyle Robbie Stadium (soccer), Irene Claudia Kroll Boathouse (rowing), and Jane Sage Cowles Stadium (softball).

These important recognitions and achievements also add great depth to the longstanding impact of women at the U of M, from Helen Mar Ely, our first woman graduate in 1875; Grammy Award winner Libby Larsen; Civil Rights trailblazer Josie Johnson, our first Black female Regent; Professor Karen Ashe, who developed the first mouse model showing Alzheimer’s disease symptoms; Lucy Dunne, who in 2013 developed a high-tech glove for firefighters that can scan for obstacles that are difficult to see in smoky rooms; and Sara Evans, a trailblazer in the field of women’s history who helped form the nation’s first major in women’s studies at the U of M, among many others.

While we have come a long way, we recognize there is still much progress to be made. But we can also appreciate where we are today as we celebrate this Title IX anniversary. And as we step into our next half century together, we can recommit to our University’s ongoing promise to ensure equal opportunity for all.

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