Title IX largely benefits whites, leaving minority women out

by Tracy Landers | 10/23/02 5:00am

Kiva Wilson's slender frame, big voice and outspoken friendliness make her a perfect coxswain for the women's light-weight crew team -- if she still wanted to row.

Wilson '04 was at one point the only African-American woman on a year-round team that demanded a tight bond with fellow athletes who, despite being some of her closest friends, did not share her cultural background.

Coming from Columbia, North Carolina, Wilson returned home her first winter break and found it comically difficult to explain her new sport. Her family had only seen her run track in a predominately black high school and play club basketball with young black men.

"No one had a concept of what I was doing... we don't have crew in Columbia," Wilson said with a smile.

In becoming a coxswain, Wilson joined the small group of female minority students who make up less than five percent of the College's athletes. While that percentage grows slightly each year, it has been far outstripped by the number of white women who've joined teams since the early 1970s.

Title IX, a federal law that effectively mandated the rapid creation of scores of new women's teams, did much to eliminate gender -- but not racial -- inequality.

That's mainly because many varsity sports, with the notable exception of basketball, are dominated by white athletes. Because Title IX aims to bring the total number of women and men players to parity, a lot of women's programs have been added that generally don't attract minorities.

Thirty years after Title IX's implementation, the lack of ethnic diversity on her golf team comes as no surprise to Vivian Lee '03. As a Korean-American and captain of the women's golf team, Lee has had success in a traditionally "white" sport.

Unlike Wilson, Lee started competing in her college sport when she was 13. Her family, like that of many college athletes, has always helped her pay for the equipment, green fees and summer lessons that have allowed her to gain skills.

"I don't think I could play golf if [my parents] didn't support my golf career," Lee said.

Equality of opportunity for expensive sports such as golf proves to be of little relevance to women whose families cannot finance their talent from a young age.

The reality of the situation is evident to many high-profile female athletics advocates, such as Tina Sloan Green, former national lacrosse coach and executive director of the Black Women in Sports Foundation.

"Title IX really helped white women," Green r told the Los Angeles Times, pointing out that minority women have not been able to keep up.

Dartmouth's defining characteristic as an Ivy League school -- the fact that it doesn't give athletic scholarships -- makes it even more difficult to diversify the women's teams.

Athletic Director Joann Harper said that increasing diversity in its athletic program an important goal for the College.

Nevertheless, Harper emphasized that the athletic department does not consider a sport's popularity with minorities when deciding whether to create a new team. The nation-wide popularity of a sport is far more important, she said.

Softball and volleyball, both added in the mid-1990s, are the two most recent additions to the female athletic program, and have attracted some minority recruits.

For Kisa Brannen '03, playing softball as a minority in her hometown of Los Angeles was nothing special. Japanese and Native American, Brannen and her younger sister were recruited to play on predominantly white Ivy League teams.

The ethnic structure of her team may have surprised her at a first-year practice or two, but Brannen said race has had no real effect on her experience.

"Everyone for the most part just gets really jealous on spring training in Florida when I get the darkest and they just burn," Brannen said.

Wilson, Lee, Harper and Brannen all agreed that coaches are constantly on the lookout for minority talent, but it is talent rather than minority status that ultimately takes precedent.

"They make a concerted effort to bring in fast rowers. But that group doesn't contain a lot of minorities," Wilson said.

Harper said that despite not offering scholarships and having a highly selective admissions process, the Ivy League could do a better job of giving women of color opportunities in athletics.

"I don't think the Ivy League does as well as it could," Harper said.

Wilson, meanwhile, is dissatisfied with the current system, which forced her to "benefit at the expense of others," namely minorities without resources.

Wilson said her former teammates continue to support her through difficult adjustments, but that she's not optimistic about the health of the Title IX-driven athletic system as a whole.

"If I thought it could change, I wouldn't have quit," Wilson said.