— Laurie Pierce
No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance. — Title IX of the Civil Rights Act: Education Amendments of 1972.
When the Presidential Commission on the Status of Women (PCSW) was asked to explain why fostering “a campus climate favorable to professional, intellectual and personal growth for all Clarion University women” is still relevant (to men and women), we all pondered the question. As I considered the relevancy of the mission of the PCSW, I returned to Title IX. Originally written to ensure the rights of women’s equal access to education, the focus became women’s equal access in sports. But, at the core of the amendment is that women will have equal access to education.
Over 50 years ago, President John F. Kennedy established the first Presidential Commission on the Status of Women. Chaired by Eleanor Roosevelt, the Commission was tasked with investigating women’s equality in education, the workplace, and under the law. Upon completion of the investigation, the commission made recommendations for affordable health care, paid maternity leave, and equal opportunity hiring practices. The report did not bring about immediate changes; however, it added to the impetus for the women’s movement in the 1960’s.
As I was preparing for this academic year, I returned to Clarion’s PCSW website and reaffirmed that the PCSW serves as a programming and advisory body that examines equity issues and monitors university policy (the PCSW also has a Facebook page). In this monitoring role, the commission seeks to ensure that the University and all of its constituencies are in compliance with nondiscrimination policies.
Returning to the initial question of the relevancy of the mission of the PCSW I reflected on the progress of the status of women from the time of President Kennedy through today. Women now can get a mortgage or a credit card without a male cosigner. We do not have to get married immediately upon graduation from college. We can stay single. President Franklin Roosevelt was the first United States President to name a woman to his cabinet (Frances Perkins, Secretary of Labor). We have had three female Secretaries of State and a woman who was a viable candidate for President. At Clarion University, we have had two women presidents. However, these milestones must be tempered by the realities of gender discrimination.
Throughout the United States, women continue to be passed over for jobs, carry a dual role of educator / researcher and family caregiver, undergraduate women are often discouraged from entering the sciences, and women continue to be assaulted on college campuses. As long as the circumstances of women change only incrementally, we all lose the rich potential of the contributions of women in the United States and that impacts us all, men and women. So, is the mission of the PCSW still relevant? The answer to that is a resounding, Yes!
This year, the PCSW will be providing education on the subject of preventing and reporting sexual assaults on campus, sponsoring innovative speakers, and celebrating the history of women this March. We will continue to work with the Office of Social Equity to ensure the health and well being of Clarion University women. We are committed to ensuring the success of all Clarion women including faculty, staff, and students. Such a commitment serves us all.
Laurie Pierce is an instructor of nursing, whose research is with vulnerable and diverse populations. Laurie is currently the co-chair of the university’s Presidential Commission on the Status of Women.