Title IX complaint alleges gender discrimination in Emerson athletics

by Christina Jedra / Beacon Staff • September 10, 2014

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Forward Jesse Senger takes a Shot
Forward Jesse Senger takes a Shot

An advocacy group filed a Title IX complaint, now dismissed, that accused Emerson College of not providing equal opportunities to male and female student athletes, according to documents recently provided to the Beacon.

The complaint — filed on Jan. 10 with The Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights in Boston — was submitted by a member of “The Old Guys for Title IX” as part of a mass complaint including 100 New England colleges and universities, according to one of the group’s members, Herb Dempsey. Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 prohibits gender-based discrimination in universities that receive federal education funds.

In an interview with the Beacon, Dempsey­ — who has no personal connection to Emerson — said the complaints filed with the Boston Office for Civil Rights were part of a series of 1,500 complaints filed by the “Old Guys” against colleges and universities nationwide starting in 2013.  

The complaint against Emerson claims that the school is violating Title IX by not providing “opportunities for women to play sports in numbers substantially proportionate to their enrollment.” The complaint’s author was redacted by The Old Guys for Title IX before it was sent to the Beacon, and Dempsey declined to provide the name.

Women made up 62 percent of the student body last year, but only 46 percent of student athletes, according to data in the complaint, which is annually released by Emerson under the U.S. Department of Education’s Equity in Athletics Disclosure Act. The participation gap — the difference between the percentage of students who are female and the percentage of athletes who are female — was 16, 18, and 12 percent in 2013, 2012, and 2011 respectively. 

The complaint argues that if Emerson provided female students with opportunities “substantially proportionate” to enrollment, 39 additional women would have been able to play intercollegiate sports last year. 

Vassiliki Kanaris, a member of Emerson’s women’s lacrosse team, said she has never felt deprived of athletic opportunities because of her gender. 

“I think it’s just that Emerson as a school doesn’t have as much an interest in sports,” said Kanaris, a junior visual and media arts major. “It’s not just a female-male thing.” 

According to Dempsey, The Office for Civil Rights responded to the complaints against the New England schools with a letter requesting evidence of “standing” within 20 days. This request requires student participation, namely evidence that female students have requested the addition of sports or that their interests and abilities are not being met.

“It’s a way of avoiding their responsibility. The numbers are still there,” Dempsey said.  

 Dempsey said the group did not provide this additional information for any of the New England cases, and the Office for Civil Rights dismissed all the complaints.

According to Andrew Tiedemann, Emerson’s vice president of communications, the college was not notified by the Office for Civil Rights that a complaint was filed. 

“Emerson supports its student athletes and the goal of gender equity,” Tiedemann wrote in an emailed statement to the Beacon. “As a member of the New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference, Emerson currently has 14 varsity teams: 7 for women and 7 for men.” 

Varsity sports available to men and women at Emerson are cross country, basketball, tennis, volleyball, soccer, lacrosse, and either baseball or softball. 

Naomi Kramer, a senior communication sciences and disorders major who plays women’s lacrosse and soccer for Emerson, said she strongly disagreed with the Title IX complaint’s allegations. 

“Basically, if you want to play, you’re going to play sports here,” she said. “We just hired a female athletic director. That alone says something about this school.” 

Dempsey, a 77-year-old retired teacher and father of five from Washington, said that members of The Old Guys for Title IX have filed thousands of Title IX complaints against public schools and colleges across the country in the past four years. He declined to say how many members belong to the group.

Dempsey said that sex discrimination in athletics is a widespread issue and that while the Office for Civil Rights collects data on gender inequalities, action is rarely taken. 

“Emerson is a symptom more than it is a real problem,” said Dempsey. “It’s Tacoma, Washington and Washington DC public schools. It points to a problem of Emerson College as a huge, massive regulatory failure in the civil rights arena by the federal government’s Office for Civil Rights.”