Mykiaa Minniss, a senior and captain of the Cougs’ defense for the Washington State University women’s soccer team, paused to thank the women who came before her.
“You have laid the groundwork for … every single woman that hasn’t had to struggle with any of these issues right now … and I look up to every single one of you,” said Minniss, the youngest panelist at the second annual virtual Women’s Leadership Summit.
Hosted by the WSU Alumni Association in March, the summit commemorated the fiftieth anniversary of Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972. The federal law states: “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.”
Minniss acknowledged her fellow panelists: retired WSU senior associate director of athletics Marcia Saneholtz, retired WSU women’s basketball and volleyball coach Sue Durrant (’62 MS Phys. Ed.), sports broadcaster Cindy Brunson (’96 Comm.), and WSU basketball and track-and-field record-setter Jeanne (Eggart) Helfer (’82 Phys. Ed.), a WSU Athletic Hall of Fame member and the first woman to receive an athletic scholarship from WSU.
Their talk, titled “How Far We’ve Come: A Reflection on the Impact of Title IX” and moderated by WSU First Lady Noel Schulz, discussed gender equality at WSU and the women’s personal experiences in athletics, administration, and more. And it’s just one way WSU is honoring 50 years of Title IX. Events kicked off in spring and will continue into the fall.
Offerings have included “Know Your Rights” trainings for students and staff, a “History of Title IX at WSU” workshop on the law’s impact, and a discussion of intersectionality of the Americans with Disabilities Act and Title IX. The Power of IX Excellence Fund was also established to support women’s athletic teams at WSU, with a fundraising campaign taking place earlier this year.
“Washington State played a significant role in the monumental shift in culture in women’s athletics, and our goal with the events and campaign is to educate, celebrate, and continue to elevate our women’s sports programs at WSU and nationally,” WSU athletic director Pat Chun said in a news release.
Washington state added its Equal Rights Amendment to the state constitution the same year as Title IX. But things didn’t change overnight, particularly in athletics. When Karen (Blair) Troianello (’80 Comm.) ran track at WSU, “Our sweat suits were hand-me-downs from the men’s team,” she told the magazine in 2007. “The men’s coaches were full-time coaches. The women’s had to both teach and be a coach. I was on a student board to look at the inequities, and they were pretty obvious.”
WSU became a battleground for equal rights in 1979, when coaches and female athletes—including Troianello, whose maiden name is on the case—sued WSU over inadequate funding and other support for women’s athletics under the state amendment.
Blair vs. Washington State University became a benchmark for women’s rights in Washington, setting a precedent for public four-year colleges and universities. The case went to the state Supreme Court, which—in 1987—ruled in favor of the plaintiffs.
By then, Troianello was working at the Yakima Herald-Republic, where she remains employed today. Earlier this year, Troianello was among the Coug women honored during a Power of IX halftime ceremony at a women’s basketball game at Beasley Coliseum. Durrant, Saneholtz, Helfer, and the late Jo Washburn (’64 MS Phys. Ed.) were also honored.
“There had always been inequity between women’s and men’s sports, but I don’t think it really came out in the open until Title IX,” Washburn, women’s athletic director from 1965 to 1982 and a plaintiff in Blair vs. Washington State University, said in 2007. “When it passed, there were meetings all over campus to talk about inequities. We knew the law said we had to change, but there were people crying that this will be the doom of college athletics. There were others on campus who said, ‘we’d like to help (women’s sports), but we can’t hurt the men’s sports.’”
During the summit, keynote speaker Saneholtz recalled how, in her first year at WSU, Washburn invited her to speak to a sociology class about gender equality in sports. At the start, the female professor asked the class how many of them thought women should have the same opportunities in sports as men. In the classroom of, “I would guess, at least 100 people,” Saneholtz said, “only a few raised their hands. I was shocked. It was my first glimpse at how conservative WSU was.”
And, “Thus began a lifetime of myth-busting.”
Those myths: “Sports were more important for men. Equal opportunity would be the ruination of men’s sports. We couldn’t afford it. Men’s sports paid for women’s sports. Or, football pays for women’s sports. Or, men’s sports pay for themselves. Not as many girls are interested in sports as boys. A perception that since things were getting better, they were good enough. And, my all-time favorite, women want too much, too soon. I was actually told that on more than one occasion,” said Saneholtz, a WSU Athletic Hall of Fame member and WSU administrator from 1979 to 2007.
“We worked diligently to figure out ways to move WSU forward,” said Durrant, also a WSU Athletic Hall of Fame member and plaintiff in the lawsuit. “If we didn’t do the lawsuit then, in our view, it meant we were just going to continue to tolerate the discrimination that occurred.”
She encouraged current female athletes and all women to “keep speaking up about the inequities that they see” and emphasized the importance of women in positions of power—a sentiment echoed by Brunson.
“We still have some cages to rattle and some things to do,” Brunson said. “But because of the groundwork that has been laid over the last 50 years, I’m very hopeful and optimistic that change can continue to go in the right direction.”
Reflection: On 50 years of Title IX and the state’s equal rights amendment – An essay by Karen (Blair) Troianello (’80 Comm.)
The face of the case: A Q&A with Troianello
Read and watch more
On a level playing field: WSU volleyball head coach Jen Greeny (’99 Ed.) finds success (Fall 2022)
WSU women athletes made their mark (Fall 2007)
How you play the game: Jeanne (Eggart) Helfer ’82 (Spring 2017)
Shattering some glass—Women sportscasters breaking into the big leagues (Summer 2015, featuring Cindy Brunson)
WSU student played key role in fight for parity for female athletes (Seattle Times profile of Karen (Blair) Troianello)
Video: The 2022 Women’s Leadership Summit (WSU Alumni Association)
The Power of IX: Read stories of prominent women athletes and coaches at WSU, and donate to the Power of IX Excellence Fund (WSU Cougar Athletic Fund)
Obituary for Joanne “Jo” Washburn (Spokesman-Review, 2020)