Enacted as a follow up to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title IX was a landmark gender equity law, passed as part of the Education Amendments of 1972, which banned sex discrimination in federally funded education programs. The protections it provided opened the doors for girls and women in academic and cocurricular programming at all levels of education while helping ensure equal access and treatment.
Where We Have Been
The story of the impact Title IX had at Bushnell University began in the 1960’s and continues with the incredible success witnessed by the Beacon women’s teams today.
Progressive in its time, Northwest Christian College was having the conversation on equality in athletics even before the passage of Title IX. During the mid-1960’s a women’s intercollegiate volleyball program was first established to complement the longstanding men’s basketball team.
The program quickly picked up steam and by 1975, the Crusaders were completing an undefeated season and winning multiple Pacific Northwest Collegiate Conference championships.
2019 Bushnell Athletic Hall of Fame Inductee Jeanette Scofield McHarness ’75 played on some of those pioneering teams. During her acceptance speech she said, “Title IX was enacted to give women access to opportunities and I was so excited. It was like a dream to come to Northwest Christian College, where being a female and a college volleyball player was just a normal part of life. We had the ability to be a team, to play against other schools, and do the same thing the men were able to do.”
Those early teams helped to create the foundation of the Bushnell athletic department as it stands today. Associate Athletic Director Sarah Freeman, who became Bushnell’s first female athletic administrator in 2010, said, “The work of the women on those early teams was pivotal to the work that we are able to do today, advocating for the support of women in athletics, and paving uncharted territory. Their blood, sweat, and tears are the fruit of the foundations that were laid, enhancing women in athletics and paving the way for women to succeed in collegiate athletics as athletes, coaches, and administrators.”
Where We Are
From the days of just men’s basketball and women’s volleyball, Bushnell has expanded to include nine women’s teams, seven men’s teams and the coed Esports program. This shift has resulted in a student-athlete population that is nearly 49% female. It is an exciting time in history with current expansion and program development geared toward female athletes.
“What we do is very equitable across genders, which is very much in line with our own core beliefs as well as those of the Cascade Conference and the NAIA,” said Freeman. “Our student-athletes are valued for who they are, not because of their gender.”
Freeman said, “We have more women’s teams and just as many women’s athletes as men and we are reinvesting in our women in exciting ways. Adding baseball has given us the opportunity to continue to invest in women’s sports as well. We were recently able to move into a brand-new home for softball, and we have added beach volleyball, putting us on the cutting edge in an emerging sport. We have women on our Esports teams, and that is an industry that is still behind the eight ball in some respects on gender equality.”
At the time of the signing, Senator Birch Bayh (Indiana), who helped guide the bill through Congress, called it “an important first step in the effort to provide for women of America something that is rightfully theirs.” 50 years removed from that first step, many more strides have been made resulting in a strong and robust women’s athletic program at Bushnell. Continued steps and advancements preclude an even stronger future on the horizon.
Similar to guidelines in the NCAA, the NAIA has recently enacted bylaws creating a Senior Woman Administrator position at all schools beginning in the fall of 2022. Freeman will assume this role for the Beacons. In addition, the NAIA has put guidelines in place to ensure proper representation for women and people of color on national committees.
Freeman sees many other opportunities for continued growth. “While we do have women in front-office leadership roles, in Athletic Communications and Athletic Training, we still lack some diversity in coaching and administration, and this is an area we expect to continue to improve,” she said. “For us to be able to put our own student-athletes in a position to reach for those opportunities is the next step. We want to continue to promote female athletes and our women’s teams and we want to see a future where it isn’t abnormal for a woman to be coaching a men’s team sport, or participating in every level of administration.”
Junior women’s volleyball player Peyton Ritchie aspires to work in a Senior Woman Administrator role at the college level and is a strong reflection of the values held by the Bushnell athletic department. “I want to bring respect to women’s sports and true equality that comes from Title IX implementation,” she said. “We work just as hard as any other athlete and we deserve that equality. I want to make sure female athletes feel they are wanted and that they matter.”
Ritchie recently realized a first step in this dream by landing an internship in sports administration at the University of Oregon.