Title IX and Our Future Leaders and Activists by Paula L. McGee

In January, I wrote a blog about my life and Title IX. Perhaps the greatest celebration that speaks to the power of Title IX is represented by the future feminists that attended the jersey retirement, my dissertation defense, and the graduation. I wrote the blog because I wanted to make sure that everyone was aware that this year is the fortieth anniversary of Title IX.  I also knew that very few people would understand the uniqueness and significance of an African American woman from a working class background having a jersey retired and graduating with a Ph.D.—all in the same year.

In February, my sister and I had our jerseys retired at USC. I wanted the day to be special, so I invited my friends and colleagues. All of my worlds (faith, academics, and athletics) that seldom cross collided. The event turned out to be a celebration of diversity with representatives from the world of politics, athletics, and religion. Claremont Graduate University was actually one of the sponsors.

In March, I was the keynote speaker at the Women’s Leadership Conference at USC sponsored by the Alumni Association. The theme was tied to Title IX. I used the same Charles Dickens theme of my blog: “It is the best of times. It is the worst of times.“ I received a wonderful response from the women as I encouraged them to claim all of their power.

In April, I had my dissertation defense. I had invited everyone to the jersey retirement, so I also extended the same invitation to the defense. In many respects a dissertation defense is similar to a jersey retirement. It is an announcement to the world that you have completed your task and achieved something that very few people ever have the opportunity to do. A successful defense, tells the world that you are officially recognized as a doctor (Ph.D.). More importantly, especially for women and people of color it means that you are a scholar.

In May, I participated in the graduation and I was selected by the School of Religion to be the Banner Carrier.

Three future leaders made me thankful for Title IX. The first is Aliyah. She is the daughter of Leanne, who finished a Ph.D. in Women’s Studies and Philosophy. I met Aliyah last year at one of Women’s Studies salons. We hit it off, so she asked her mother if it would be alright for me to be her mentor, and of course I agreed. The second leader is Sarah. She is ten years old and the daughter of the Dean of the School of Religion. The third leader is Imani, my seventeen year old niece.

At the defense, Aliyah made sure to tell me that she approved of my presentation and that I did a great job. Imani, my niece sent out a prayer request on Facebook. When the committee announced that I had successfully defended the dissertation, I asked her to deliver the closing benediction. She stood and led a room of scholars with a dynamic prayer.

Aliyah, at the graduation, graciously told her mother and I several times that she was proud of us. I wasn’t sure how to respond. I am usually the one telling young girls how proud I am of them. I was impressed that she was comfortable and confident enough to share her pride with two scholars.

It was ten year old Sarah, however that impressed me the most. After the jersey retirement, she returned to school and planned a debate about women athletes versus male athletes. Since I was the Banner Carrier at the graduation and after the ceremony the banner is supposed to be carried from the quad to the reception at the School of Religion, Sarah recruited Lisa, the Assistant to the Dean and myself to allow her and her friend to carry the banner. I quietly bent down and whispered to her that I thought it was a wonderful plan. Lisa agreed. We both fully participated in the subversive plot of Sarah and her co-conspirator.

Perhaps these young leaders model for us the power of Title IX and our continued pursuit of liberation as women and feminists. What does it mean for Imani, Aliyah, and Sarah to see women with retired jerseys and Ph.D.’s? Hopefully, it means that they will not be afraid to challenge themselves and others. Maybe they will continue to redefine themselves and push the boundaries both subversively and otherwise–without apology.

The year is only half over and I know that there are many more battles to fight and obstacles to overcome. But Reverend Doctor Auntie Paula is celebrating Title IX with these young leaders. Whether it is in athletics, academics, or religion, I am sure that they will make us proud as they prepare the way for the next generation of women leaders, feminists, and activists.

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