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The Dartmouth
June 20, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Volleyball team claims gender bias

A member of the women's volleyball team wrote a letter in July to the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights supporting an allegation that the College does not provide equal opportunities to men's and women's sports.

The Office of Civil Rights is currently investigating the College after members of the women's softball team filed a complaint last spring charging that the College discriminates against women by giving preferential treatment and relatively more funding to men's athletic programs.

Members of the softball team said the College had violated their civil rights by not complying with federal legislation that mandates gender equity in collegiate athletics.

In the three-page letter, sent on behalf of the entire volleyball team to the head investigator at the Education Department, Andrea DeShazo '94 wrote that the team is another example of how the College has violated Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which prohibits federally-funded schools from discriminating on the basis of sex in any programs or activities.

The volleyball team letter is not a complaint, but does ask the Education Department to consider the volleyball team's situation if it decides to reprimand the College.

"I am writing ... with the hope of adding information to your investigation," DeShazo, the teams administrative liaison wrote. "In addition, I want to ensure that our team will be granted equal consideration for funding if the OCR investigation finds Dartmouth out of compliance with Title IX."

If the Office of Civil Rights decides Dartmouth has violated Title IX, it will recommend measures the College can take to comply with the law. Those measures might include increasing funding of women's sports or cutting the number of athletic opportunities for men.

The College can choose to voluntarily comply within one month or can fight the decision in federal court. Several schools, including Brown University and Colorado State University, are currently in court battles over Title IX.

The volleyball team is an unfunded varsity sport. According to DeShazo, the team has been seeking full varsity status for five years by writing letters and meeting with College administrators. Full varsity status would mean official funding from the Athletic Department and other support services.

In a letter to the volleyball team last February, Athletic Director Dick Jaeger wrote that "budgetary constraints and the necessity to provide more equitable opportunities and experiences for our existing varsity programs make it impossible" to fully fund the team.

Last night, Jaeger said he did not know the team had sent a letter to the Office of Civil Rights. He said he believes the volleyball program is funded equitably and is given equal treatment.

"I think what the volleyball team said was, 'Well, jeezum, we've been standing in line and the softball team went to OCR, so we'd better see what the OCR might think about our situation,'" he said. "Money is the bottom line in many respects."

The volleyball team letter also criticizes the "seemingly haphazard manner that some decisions in the Athletic Department and the Office of the Dean of Students were conducted."

The letter said Dean of Students Lee Pelton did not make a "rational" decision when he voted to increase the softball team's funding to $20,000 in the spring.

Pelton said his decision to provide more funding was "based on an inadequate amount of data," but he never told the team that "the money should have gone to the volleyball team or any other team."

Pelton said he did not know the volleyball team had sent a letter to the Education Department, but he knew there had been some contact between the team and federal investigators.

A federal deadline had required the Office of Civil Rights to complete its investigation of the College by August 28, but Pelton said investigators have not contacted him since September.

He said he did not know when the report would be finalized.

"They have not ruled on the complaint. They haven't told us why or given any indication when they might do that," he said. "Until then we are in a holding pattern."

DeShazo said the team was working through the Athletic Department to gain funding but decided to write the letter to the government after "we realized how the administration responded and how much it changed when the softball team filed the complaint. Something had to change. The status quo couldn't just stay."

The volleyball team sent a letter to Jaeger 18 days after sending the letter to the Education Department. The letter to Jaeger did not mention that team members had contacted the Office of Civil Rights.

"We did not tell Dick Jaeger about the letter because the purpose was not to blackmail Jaeger -- that was not the logic," she said. "We are trying to work within the system and make sure that the volleyball team is first and foremost in Dick Jaeger's mind when he decides what teams need to be raised if the College is not in compliance."

Jaeger and Pelton said the final report from the Education Department will not tell the College specifically how to end gender inequity if it exists, but will work with administrators to resolve the problems.

"From what I heard they won't try to micro-manage," Jaeger said. "It's more like they'll let us bounce scenarios off them."

Jaeger said he would not speculate on how the College might resolve any problems if the government decides the College has violated the law.

Volleyball Team Captain Jennifer Hall '94 said she met with College administrators and College President James Freedman last year to discuss possible funding for the team.

Hall said the team decided to write the letter to Education Department after Pelton said he would look into giving the team $20,000 and then the College decided not to fund the team.

Hall said volleyball is the third most popular sport nationally and is the most popular intramural sport at Dartmouth.

According to the softball team's complaint, the College should have the resources to fund two more women's sports teams.

Though 48 percent of Dartmouth students are female, the complaint said only 43 percent of Dartmouth's athletes are women and 42 percent of the athletic budget is allocated to women's programs.

The softball team argued that the six percent difference would allow the creation of two new varsity sports, one of which should be women's softball. Both the softball and volleyball team said a fully-funded varsity program would cost $20,000.

But DeShazo said the Athletic Department told the volleyball team it would cost $85,000 a year.

Jaeger said the Athletic Department has provided the volleyball team with a $1,000 annual budget. The College also helps with scheduling and practice times and provides gym facilities and trainers during regular working hours.

Hall said the team originally wanted to file a joint complaint with the softball team but decided to wait because softball players said they wanted to file their charge independently.