Ask The Daily Gazette: What’s up with Title IX?

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

Last week the national media picked up on the reinstatement of sorority Kappa Alpha Theta almost 80 years after Swarthmore banned sororities from campus by student vote.

All of these articles discuss, as the Huffington Post put it, the sorority’s “trump card,” over dissenting student opinions: Title IX. So what is it?

Title IX (see brief history) is a portion of the Educational Amendments made in 1972. It concerns discrimination based on sex, and ensures equal treatment in educational programs:

No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subject to discrimination under any educational programs or activity receiving federal financial assistance.

As an institution that accepts federal funding, Swarthmore is legally bound to uphold Title IX: if there is an interest in starting a sorority, it would be discriminatory to disallow the Not Yet Sisters from bringing Kappa Alpha Theta to campus.

The Daily Gazette turned to Professor Erin Buzuvis, of the Western New England University School of Law, for an outside opinion. Buzuvis runs a Title IX  news and commentary blog.

“Owing to Title IX’s application to extracurriculum activities, colleges and universities are still required to treat student organizations equally, without discrimination based on sex. If a college approved fraternities, but rejected sororities, that would be discrimination based on sex,” Buzuvis said, in an email.

There is an exception concerning “Social fraternities and sororities” written into Title IX. But as Director of Equal Opportunity and Title IX Coordinator Sharmaine LaMar was quick to point out, this applies only to the “membership practices” of greek organizations: if a sorority does not allow men to join, that does not constitute discrimination. This is the same exemption that is applied to voluntary youth organizations such as Girl or Boy Scouts. Kappa Alpha Theta, however, accepts all female-identifying persons.

Because there is interest in having a greek organization for women, LaMar says, “it is important for [the College] to match that interest.” By matching that interest, the College is fulfilling an obligation to Title IX to provide a parallel opportunity for women alongside the College’s two fraternities, Phi Psi and Delta Upsilon.

“Where the law is clear, we have a clear obligation to follow it,” LaMar said. But LaMar also pointed out the administration will continue to listen closely to students questions and concerns, and that the on-going debate among students is important.


  1. Nitpick:

    The “however” in the sentence, “Kappa Alpha Theta, however, accepts all female-identifying persons,” puts the membership policy of Kappa Alpha Theta in opposition to “if a sorority does not allow men to join, that does not constitute discrimination.”

    Which makes it sound like allowing all female-identifying persons to join is the opposite of not allowing men.

    Which seems to undermine “female-identifying,” as though in some cases, a female-identifying person is in some way kind of or technically a man.

    Which doesn’t strike me as particularly respectful of people’s gender identities.

    • Title IX specifically references sex, not gender. It is stating that this sorority would not fall afoul of the law even if there was no exception for greek groups, as the sorority accepts members of both sexes.

      • So, that makes sense to me. I’m not critiquing Title IX.

        But placing that in opposition to not allowing men (a gender designation) still does the things I mentioned in my first comment.

    • Point for everyone to realize: It’s impossible to identify as female; female is a sex, not a gender identity. So it actually makes no sense that they include anyone who is “female identifying” since that’s no one, considering you can’t identify as female.

  2. It is possible to have “equal” outlets and groups as the men/the fraternities, without starting a sorority. Revamping the WRC, getting rid of the fraternities, or not having to be a nationally chartered sorority, and thus function with more autonomy, these all seem like viable avenues to gender equity on campus. Why buy in to a long history of racial discrimination and business-minded guidelines to make it happen?

    Swarthmore could be an example of what it looks like to have a full fledged progressive “sorority” by another name, that mandates its own norms. I don’t believe this can happen if it takes the same route as the frats; pledging and payment a must. The homogeneity among “frat boys” on campus is proof in and of itself of the inherent cohort that a nationally chartered fraternity tends to appeal to. No matter how much we wish to argue that Swarthmore is different from the rest, a national chartered sorority would not create an “open space” for all women on campus, no matter what it said on paper.

    In the patriarchal world of academia, “not yet sisters” has an opportunity to do something truly revolutionary and liberating – but maybe we’re just as mainstream as the rest after-all.

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