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'For every step forward, there's 10 more that we need to take': YWCA West Central Michigan reflects on Title IX anniversary

In 1972, an education bill was signed on Capitol Hill to end discrimination on the basis of gender and sex in school settings.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — 50 years ago today, legislation was signed that paved the way for equity in the U.S. Education system. 

Title IX continues to make an impact in West Michigan, in everything from sports to safety policies in schools.  

In 1972, an education bill was signed on Capitol Hill to end discrimination on the basis of gender and sex in school settings.

"I think it was a wonderful opportunity and a recognition that the basis of opportunity and equity, in many ways socially, really runs through education,"  YWCA West Central Michigan CEO Charisse Mitchell says. "Your access to quality education and activities that really are part of your formative years really do set you up for success as an adult."

She says it was crucial for this legislation to be rooted in education. It's work that her organization had been a part of for many years prior. 

"YWCA West Central Michigan was actually started here in Grand Rapids in 1900," Mitchell says. "It was always started out as a space by, for and about women, because there weren't those other spaces. So our Caroline Putnam school that was started in the 20s and 30s was a place where education for girls was prioritized, because in regular school systems, it wasn't a priority. So we had to start one ourselves."

Fast forward to today, Title IX continues to make an impact.

"Title IX was a vehicle to make sure that there was equal funding for sports and equal access for young girls and young women in sports in the state of Michigan," Mitchell says.

It's not just about sports, but also protecting people from sexual harassment and abuse. 

"Title IX allows for that requirement that you create safe spaces (and) safe policies, invest in all the things that make that experience fair and equal for everyone on on campus or in your school," Mitchell says.

While celebrating the last 50 years, she says it's important to remain vigilant and continue pressing forward. 

"We've made steps. We should be really proud of that 50th anniversary, but it wasn't too long ago that we didn't have those rights (and) that access," Mitchell says. "Let's be mindful of how easily they can be eroded, if we're not careful."

Over the next 50 years and beyond, she says there's an opportunity to take lessons from Title IX and apply it to other parts of life through legislation, like in the workplace, politics and family settings. 

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