Today is the 50th anniversary of Title IX. The importance and impact of this law cannot be understated, and while Title IX has a long way to go, I believe that the experience of students (especially feminine students) in school today is incomparable to that of 1972.

Bernice Sandler is one of my biggest feminist inspirations, a woman whose name is hidden in far too much obscurity relative to her impact on the United States. Sandler, often known as the “godmother” of Title IX, worked diligently to pass Title IX. She herself had experienced hiring discrimination in higher education for simply having children, and her lobbying efforts would result in one of the largest education overhauls in the history of gender equity.

All the way up until the early 1970s, the words “sexual harassment” or “gender discrimination” were not used, for sexual harassment and gender discrimination were both considered commonplace in far too many instances. As an 18-year-old student, I think of all the sexual harassment I’ve experienced and witnessed in education, knowing that it is only a fraction of what likely occurred for years. When Title IX was passed by Congress and subsequently signed into law by President Nixon, there wasn’t even much ‘buzz’ about it in the news.

No one—as Bernice Sandler herself admitted—knew that Title IX would become a gender equity giant in fighting all kinds of gender discrimination.

In the years following the passage of Title IX, women’s sports teams began to receive funding proportionate to that of men’s teams. Title IX had become a legal giant in the sports arena, and women were leading the charge. When people hear “Title IX,” however, I fear it is far too often in an athletic context, but it is so much more than that.

Title IX is also known for its role in sexual assault on college campuses, with lawsuits across different colleges occurring across the country due to a cover-up of a sexual assault incident or failure to adequately support a survivor. There are two key cases to know here: Gebser v. Lago Vista Independent School District, which established liability for institutions that failed to adequately respond to teacher-student sexual harassment, and Davis v. Monroe County Board of Education, which established the same liability for student-student sexual harassment. Both of these cases have been instrumental in building the legal framework for Title IX to support sexual harassment survivors.

Feminists and education experts alike have been concerned about the impact of Betsy DeVos’s (Former Department of Education secretary under President Trump) restrictions put on Title IX guidelines. In these changes, survivors had fewer rights under Title IX, Transgender students were denied coverage under Title IX, and more rights were awarded to those accused of sexual harassment/assault. These guidelines were destructive to the rights of students, and we are overjoyed to see them revised in the Biden administration’s new proposed guidelines, announced today—on the 50th anniversary of Title IX.

But lacking in these regulations was something glaringly obvious to those of us here at the Ruth Project: dress codes. Title IX has increasingly, through the work of many of our initiatives, been utilized in cases of sexist dress codes. We’ve argued Title IX discrimination to school boards, district attorneys, and school officials all over the country in regards to dress codes that discriminate on the basis of sex. To truly begin an overhaul of dress codes that discriminate against LGBTQIA+ and feminine students, we need Title IX guidelines that make clear what a dress code can and cannot do under Title IX.

Just last year, in August 2021, a federal judge declared that Title IX applies to school dress codes in Peltier v. Charter Day School. The dress code at Charter Day School forced girls to wear skirts, in a particularly discriminatory use of a uniform policy. This dress code policy is deeply inequitable and pushes feminine students into archaic gender stereotypes that are harmful. Recently, a federal judge ruled that the very same dress code that forced girls to wear skirts also violated the Equal Protection Clause, and we hope that the coming additions to the case will also find it in violation of Title IX.

It is necessary that the Department of Education include dress codes in Title IX guidelines. For far too long, Title IX has been ignored in K-12 schools, and excluding dress codes from Title IX guidelines only continues this issue. Students deserve far better than for Title IX to abandon them when they are being pulled out of class for exposed cleavage or shoulders. We must act, and today on the 50th anniversary of Title IX, we are setting our eyes forward to ensure that younger students are never left behind by Title IX.