Growing Up with Title IX: The Impact Its Had on My Life and Career

by Sherri Privitera

Student-athletes train in the new Georgetown Thompson Center, the latest work from Sherri Privitera and team.

I fell in love with architecture at an early age. Fresh off a 7th grade industrial arts class, I instinctively assumed the role of apprentice to my dad as we began designing and building our family’s new house in the middle of Missouri.

He taught me everything, from drawing floor plans to physically constructing the house, and I immediately fell in love with the craft. Seeing paper turn into a built space excites me as much today as it did back then.

I was raised in a family that set no limitations to what a female could accomplish. That mindset followed me to the University of Nebraska, where I ultimately earned a Bachelor and Master of Architecture. My graduating class was equally split between females and males. Again, it didn’t feel out of the ordinary based on my upbringing.

It took years after graduating and well into my career before I gained the perspective and became aware of just how much progress we’ve made in the education and careers of women in the United States.

A key milestone in the journey was Title IX, an anti-discrimination law established in 1972, the same year I was born. It’s become synonymous with gender equality in collegiate athletics, but applies to every aspect of education, including classes, financial assistance and employment opportunities.

Bernice Sandler, a women’s rights activist widely known as the “Godmother of Title IX,” stopped in Kansas City five years ago to speak during what was the law’s 40th anniversary. I was fortunate enough to be in the room that day. It was the moment I became more aware of all the work that paved the way for my education and career.

“Because of Title IX, the campus has changed irretrievably, and the world of higher education, and the nation will never again be the same,” Sandler writes on her website.

What once wasn’t even considered for women, has now become the expectation. Before the 1800s, women were not only unable to attend secondary schooling, but were believed to be incapable of having a career or even owning property.

Advanced classes open to women were often restricted to home economics, social work, child development and nursing. Women didn’t begin attending college in equal numbers to men until the 1980s.

Thanks to the hard work of the women before us, those scenarios now seem unthinkable. Women Leaders in College Sports, a women’s leadership advocacy organization Populous is proud to support, launched the #BecauseofTitleIX campaign this past April. The campaign celebrates Title IX’s 45th anniversary on June 23 and encourages women to share their personal success stories on social media.

This campaign inspires me to express my gratitude to the men and women who have fought for change, embraced opportunity and stood up for equal rights for all. I can’t thank you enough.

We feel the impact of those leaders every day at Populous designing spaces for some of the most storied programs in college athletics. More women play collegiate sports now than ever before, about 200,000 according to Mother Jones.

When it comes down to it, student-athletes have the same needs regardless of gender. They all have needs for nutrition, strength training, practice, athletic training and academics. I have the opportunity to improve their daily experiences through facilities that optimize their individual development. Our job is to provide them all with the amenities to thrive in the classroom, in competition and in life.

We also design spaces for support staff of both genders where previously limitations existed partially due to the physical space. Rooms without sightlines into the locker room, male and female restrooms and private corridors that don’t interrupt the daily routines of athletes are all examples. I look forward to the day when Amanda Sauer or another female officiates at McLane Stadium at Baylor Stadium. She’ll be greeted by a suite designed for male and female alike.

Title IX’s influence also extends to collegiate athletics leadership. Look no further than the distinguished and up-and-coming female athletic directors, 38 of them in the Division I ranks alone. The success of visionaries like Penn State Athletic Director Sandy Barbour has changed the way people look at women in sports.

“Women got the opportunity to be student-athletes and then saw the possibilities of working in administration,” Barbour told The Philadelphia Inquirer in 2015. “Prior to the early ’70s, women, for the most part, didn’t have the opportunities. And if you can’t see it, you can’t imagine it.”

Women have always had the abilities to succeed in these careers. Title IX gave them the opportunity to achieve them.

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Sherri Privitera has more than two decades of expertise designing collegiate sports experiences for more than 50 universities across the United States. Her award-winning work, including leading the design of the $266-million McLane Stadium at Baylor University, led to her being recognized as a 2016 Sports Business Journal Power Player.

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