The Future is Ms. is an ongoing series of news reports by young feminists. This series is made possible by a grant from SayItForward.org in support of teen journalists and the series editor, Katina Paron.
When Title IX was passed 50 years ago this month, it helped girls gain access to spaces that they were not able to enter. No longer could schools track kids based on gender into home economics or shop class. Girls’ sports were required to receive equal funding as boys’ teams. The law also mandated school resources and procedures for when students report sexual harassment or assault.
Title IX’s impact was seen shortly after it was passed. In 1978, six times as many female students in high school competed in sports than in 1970. In 2012, there were 10 times as many female students playing on high school teams.
These changes were monumental but they were also personal. In my own family, Title IX changed the course of the lives of my grandmother, my aunt and my cousin. These are their stories.
As a girl in Millburn, N.J., in the 1950s, Rebecca Lubetkin wasn’t much of an activist. Sure, it rankled her that there were no interscholastic teams for female athletes at her high school, but she didn’t know she could do anything about it.
It wasn’t until she graduated from Barnard, where she got involved in the civil rights movement, that she began to realize that “sexism, like racism, was not just personal but also social, cultural and political, transcending individual circumstances,” said Lubetkin, now 83.
In the early 1970s, as the NOW New Jersey education task force chair, she played a vital role in advancing educational equity at the state and national levels. Her advocacy and lobbying helped pass a state law—NJ Title VI—that went beyond federal Title IX in that it mandated “bias-free” resources for students. This revolutionized classroom practices, textbooks and classroom resources to be less sex-segregated.
“Opportunities for both genders were increased,” said Lubetkin, “offering more realistic preparation for the demands of adult life.”
In the mid-’70s, she established the Consortium for Educational Equity at Rutgers University to provide training to educators on complying with the new federal laws across the country. As the associate director for equity of the Rutgers Center for Mathematics, Science and Computer Education in 1993, she helped increase the number of girls whose high school education included advanced STEM courses.
“This enabled girls to be competitive in very challenging academic programs in college,” said Lubetkin. In 1970, eight times as many males earned Ph.D.s as females; today more females than males get Ph.D.s, according to “The Strange Evolution of Title IX” in National Affairs.
Focusing on school-based curricula wasn’t enough for Lubetkin. In 1975, she took on the state’s scholastic athletic programs. She surveyed high school coaches to find disparities between how boys’ and girls’ sports were treated. The analysis resulted in a formal complaint with the state’s civil rights division and huge changes for girls’ teams. Lubetkin saw increases in the number of female students involved in athletics, the number of sports available for female students and the number of teams for female students.
Despite these improvements, Lubetkin emphasizes there are still improvements to be made. “In many places, the boys’ teams are still prioritized,” she said.
Julie Lubetkin didn’t realize her mom was such a rock star. All she knew was that in elementary school in the ’70s, only boys could be the safety patrols who helped younger kids cross streets. The captains were always male, and they were the only people who got to ride bikes to school. When her mom got wind of this, she pushed back and Julie, now 55, became the first female captain.
When she got older, Julie Lubetkin took further advantage of the opportunities Title IX created for her. “By high school, I didn’t feel like I was limited in terms of opportunities to play sports,” she said. She competed on her high school’s tennis and swim teams on the varsity level and participated in a recreational softball team.
Lubetkin didn’t let herself be pigeonholed professionally, either. She became a Silicon Valley executive in the financial technology industry—a field where the gender gap is wide. In 2021, women occupied less than 30 percent of jobs in the industry. In business school at Stanford, only about 30 percent of her class was female.
“My generation may have been a little blind to some of the fights and the things that my mom and her contemporaries were doing to earn these opportunities,” said Lubetkin. ”Most didn’t realize that it had only been a few years that these were available.”
As the 2020 Yale women’s soccer team captain, Julie’s daughter, Alyssa Fagel carried her grandmother’s torch onto the field. Even though Fagel grew up playing on a nationally ranked club soccer team, Title IX was not on her radar. “For so much of my life, I was really shielded from it in a positive way,” she said. “I felt like the opportunities were endless as a female athlete.”
It wasn’t until college that Title IX came up, and it was an uncomfortable conversation. Some of her male classmates thought certain sports, such as wrestling, lost their varsity status or didn’t have funding because women’s sports were taking away their funding. Some of them cared more about the actual wrestling events than the principle of gender equality in sports.
Now, as a litigation analyst for civil rights at the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York, Fagel serves as an advocate for women. Fagel received an NCAA postcollegiate scholarship this year, which is given to former student athletes who stood out in academics and athletics. Fagel would not have continued with soccer if she did not have the opportunity to play at the collegiate level with an abundance of resources at Yale. During college, Fagel had volunteered with Lawyers Without Borders, and, there, she worked on human trafficking which targeted women. Additionally, last year, she was part of the prosecution team in R. Kelly’s legal trial.
Fagel hopes that young women understand how much work her grandmother and other advocates did for gender equality.
“It’s one thing to read it in a history textbook of what things looked like 50 to 100 years ago,” she said. “It’s another thing to hear it from a relative of these very personal stories of how it impacted them.”