Growing up in the 1960s, Regina Buggy looked on in envy as all the neighborhood boys were drafted onto Little League baseball teams. “I knew what team every boy was on. I went down to watch their games,” she remembers. “I thought, ‘They have to be the luckiest human beings in the world.’”
Buggy’s mother assured her daughter that her time would come. Meanwhile, Dad made sure she took all the same golf lessons her brothers had.
As it turns out, Buggy would get her fill of athletics, including a spot on the U.S. Women’s National Field Hockey team that won a bronze medal in the 1984 Olympics. That may not have happened if it weren’t for the federal Title IX legislation passed 50 years ago this month. “It made a difference, and it will continue to make a difference as long as it’s tweaked and supported,” says Buggy, who oversaw 30 varsity teams at Episcopal Academy before retiring as its athletic director in 2020.
In schools that receive federal funding, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 prohibits sexual harassment and other sex-based discrimination. In a region that may well have more educational institutions per capita than any stretch of real estate in America, Title IX’s efforts to guarantee gender-neutral educational opportunities are even more relevant. “Drive down Lancaster Avenue, and you see all the fields there. Who plays on them, whether the quality of the baseball field is as good as the softball field, and who gets the lights—[it’s all] shaped by Title IX,” says Terri Boyer, founding director of the Anne Welsh McNulty Institute for Women’s Leadership at Villanova University. “But it’s also who can be admitted to the school. There are institutions that went co-ed—that’s Title IX. It’s impacted the way education looks on the Main Line.”
In terms of its expansion into the world of sexual harassment on campus, Title IX may be our most evolved—and evolving—federal legislation. It’s defined as any instance of quid pro quo harassment by a school employee, any conduct that denies equal educational access, and any instance of sexual assault, stalking, or dating or domestic violence. Potential Title IX violations include harassment or discrimination based on sex or gender identity or expression, pregnancy or parenting status; bullying in the form of comments, threats, gestures or rumors of a sexual nature; sharing images of a sexual nature; nonconsensual sex acts; and sex-based inequity in athletics.
Even dress code interpretations have evolved since the legislation—and law firms now have Title IX niche departments. Firms like McAndrews, Mehalick, Connolly, Hulse and Ryan P.C. in Berwyn are hiring former prosecutors like Joe McGettigan (who put both John du Pont and Jerry Sandusky behind bars) to conduct investigations for both sides. Though the legislation requires compliance officers or coordinators, schools typically have inexperienced committees to mitigate on-campus violations and charges. “Schools were not prepared for the costs involved [with Title IX settlements]. They’re paying now,” McGettigan says. “We were ahead of our time.”
Due to the potential for bad publicity, lawsuits aren’t commonplace—but settlements are. Title IX coordinators are caught between doing their jobs, keeping the students’ best interests in mind and navigating difficult waters full of changes and cautious administrators who want to protect their schools’ reputations. Robert Wood was a Title IX officer at Valley Forge Military Academy and College. Upon leaving in 2015, he filed his own complaint with the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, claiming that VFMAC tried to impede his investigations. “I look to protect people on my campus,” says Wood, who’s now the Title IX coordinator at Gwynedd Mercy University.
About half of all compliance officers are stationed in athletic offices. “But you can make the argument for its stealth impact on careers in tech-ed, and for the engagement of women in science, technology and mathematics,” says Boyer. “It used to be that girls had to take home economics and boys had to take shop. Now we leave all options open to everyone across the gender spectrum.”
Buggy’s alma mater, Plymouth Whitemarsh High School, had a great reputation for girls’ sports thanks to iconic female coaches who’d been successful prior to Title IX. Buggy had the same good fortune at Ursinus College, where she found more women leaders with incredible resumes and prolific athletic experience. She couldn’t have plotted her path any better, though she still thinks success wouldn’t have been possible without Title IX. “We were raised to believe we could do whatever we wanted to do. I don’t think our elders had that, but they were strong enough to endure. They loved [athletics] beyond the barriers.”
Buggy arrived at EA in 1986, soon after the historically all-boys institution had gone co-ed. As the field hockey coach and an assistant athletic director overseeing the girls’ athletic program, she presided over nearly 600 games. A private school didn’t need to worry about Title IX. Still, the administration was adamant about balance. “We needed to have equality of everything, but we didn’t have that many girls to begin with—and so not many girls’ sports,” says Buggy. “We built slowly, within a strategic plan to make sure it would be a positive. We only had boys’ facilities, so it took time.”
Moving forward, Buggy is keenly aware of the responsibility to guard and protect Title IX and its far-reaching and ever-changing interpretations. “Remain vigilant and never forget,” she says.