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‘Evolving Interpretations of Title IX’

June 23, 2022

On the 50th anniversary of Title IX, Prof. Karen M. Tani L’07, PhD’11 shares her insights on the landmark bill from a historical perspective.

Fifty years ago, President Richard Nixon signed into law Title IX, the bill that prohibits sex-based discrimination in school or education programs that receives federal funding.

Here, Karen M. Tani L’07, PhD’11, Seaman Family University Professor, shares her insights on the landmark bill from a historical perspective:

From a legal historian’s perspective, one of the most fascinating aspects of Title IX was that way that federal administrators in the 21st century repurposed that law to advance goals staked out in the 1994 Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). Not long after the Supreme Court struck down VAWA’s civil rights remedy (allowing victims of gender-motivated violence to sue perpetrators in federal court), people concerned about sexual violence recognized Title IX as a potentially useful tool.

Although limited to federally funded educational settings, Title IX offered a means of forcing powerful institutions to take sexual violence seriously. The Obama Administration’s embrace of this strategy proved controversial, but its aggressive enforcement activity on college campuses reminded the broader public that incidents of sexual violence have aggregate meaning. A group’s vulnerability to sexual violence can be as much a marker of subordination and exclusion as a denial of material resources or training opportunities. Is freedom from sexual violence a civil right? Evolving interpretations of Title IX suggest it may be.

Tani is a scholar of U.S. legal history, with broad interests in social welfare law, administrative agencies, and the role of rights in the modern American state.

Some of her scholarship that examines Title IX includes: 

Tani’s current research is about the history of disability law in the late 20th century. She teaches Torts, American Legal History, and Law & Inequality, as well as classes in the University of Pennsylvania’s History Department, where she holds a joint appointment.

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