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.