Women’s Rights Activist
“Godmother of Title IX”
Bernice Sandler (1928 – present)
Bernice (Bunny) Sandler is a women’s rights activist, best known for her groundbreaking work fighting sexual harassment and discrimination on college campuses. Labeled the “Godmother of Title IX,” Sandler both led efforts for the legislation’s enactment and became a national expert on the law’s implementation.
Despite holding a doctorate degree, Sandler was unable to obtain a full-time faculty position because of the institutional sexism facing women in academia. In the1960s.women held more terminal degrees than ever before, yet female professors were routinely denied faculty jobs and tenure. Although Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibited discrimination in employment based on sex, it excluded educational institutions. Determined to legally fight collegiate sexism, Sandler used an obscure Executive Order, issued in 1968 by President Lyndon Johnson prohibiting sex discrimination by federal contractors, to file the first federal sex discrimination lawsuits against every college with federal contracts, about 250 in all.
Dr. Sandler’s lawsuit got the attention of Congresswoman Edith Green (D-Oregon), who assembled the first Congressional hearings on sex discrimination in education and employed Sandler as an expert. From there the idea for a law banning sex discrimination in federally-funded education programs was born. Cosponsored by Congresswoman Patsy Mink (D-Hawaii), Title IX passed two years later and was signed into law by President Richard Nixon in 1972.
Title IX immediately ended overt sex discrimination in educational admissions and hiring practices. But in 1974, Sandler and others realized that the law could also cover discrimination in scholastic athletics, ending a system in which women’s programs were rarely funded or even offered. The law has more recently been used to better address sexual violence on campus. Through her long career Bunny Sandler has written three books and more than 100 articles, given more than 2,500 presentations, and served as a media expert on sex discrimination in education.
Did You Know…
According to Title IX, schools have a legal obligation to prevent and respond to any reported sexual harassment or misconduct.