This summer marks the 50th anniversary of the passing of Title IX, the landmark legislation that galvanized the United States toward equalizing women’s rights by outlawing discrimination by sex in educational programs and activities receiving federal funding. The provision of sports opportunities at schools, one of Title IX’s more better-known legacies, had a global ripple effect and is at the heart of the work being amplified by UT’s Center for Sport, Peace, and Society.
“Women from all around the world have benefited from this important legislation,” says Carolyn Spellings, chief of evaluation, research, and accountability for CSPS. “They’ve learned from American women who were granted access to higher education because of sport scholarships. But international female student–athletes have also experienced firsthand the powerful mix of sport and education thanks to opportunities provided by Title IX.”
One of Title IX’s biggest advocates was legendary UT basketball coach Pat Summitt (‘75), who was well-known for empowering women and girls through sports and education. Her legacy is honored and reflected in the mission of the center, which has worked for 10 years to create a more peaceful, equitable, and inclusive world through sport-centered programs that benefit people in marginalized groups as well as students, educators, and advocates.
In honor of the Title IX anniversary, the center is celebrating UT icons and other women who embody the spirit of the legislation through a one-of-kind storytelling and research project.
The oral history podcast IX at 50: The Lady Vols Experience celebrates the groundbreaking work and lasting influence of Summitt and UT women’s athletics in advancing equality for women and girls. Episodes are co-hosted by CSPS Director Sarah Hillyer (’10) and Olympic medalist LaVonna Martin Floreal (’89), who interview past and present Lady Vol athletes, coaches, and administrators.
“Interviewing Lady Vols across the generational spectrum has been a fascinating journey through time and an important exercise to capture the rich historical moments that have shaped the Lady Vols brand—a brand that is recognizable around the world—and one that inspires new generations of women and girls in every corner of the globe,” says Hillyer.
“Pat would be so proud to know that we are preserving stories in a tangible way so that the lessons we’ve learned along the way can be shared with women and girls fighting for their own Title IX moments, no matter where they were born or where they call home.”
A second podcast, Strong Women. Better World., highlights women breaking down sociocultural barriers and using sport and education to strengthen societies. It will be featured on a new website illuminating the work of past CSPS program participants.
The center will also release the illustrated book Strong Women. Better World: Title IX’s Global Effect, to highlight the inspirational stories of nine women working to create their own Title IX moments. One of them is Aline Silva of Brazil, who participated in the center’s Global Sports Mentoring Program, a trailblazing women’s empowerment and sports diplomacy program that is a collaboration between CSPS, the US Department of State, and espnW. Each year the program brings a group of women from around the world to the United States for an intensive five-week mentorship experience in which participants create action plans aimed at using sport to redress pressing social challenges facing women and girls in their home communities.
Silva credits sports with changing the trajectory of her life. “My mother raised me alone because my father left us when I was still very small,” she says. “My mom had to work hard to support us, so I spent a lot of time on the streets learning the wrong things. After surviving an alcohol-induced coma when I was only 11, my mother moved me to a new school in an attempt to help me leave the streets. She knew the new school offered several extracurricular activities like judo that would better occupy my time. That’s when my transformation began—and as I fell in love with sports, my behavior also changed.”
Silva’s transformation paid dividends in her personal life but also on the mat. She went on to win a world silver medal at the Wrestling World Championships, a silver medal at the World Cup, and a bronze at the 2021 Pan American Games, and she represented Brazil in the 2016 and 2020 Summer Olympic Games. Today she helps other women and girls better their lives as the founder of Mempodera, a program that empowers girls through sport and learning English.
Kathryn Creveling, a CSPS graduate intern and a master’s candidate in recreation and sport management at UT, is collaborating with peers across campus to conduct some of the research behind the new website that will feature other international stories of inspiration. Data from over 100 countries was presented at EURēCA, UT’s annual Exhibition of Undergraduate Research and Creative Achievement, in 2021.
“The fight for equality has been a long one, and we’ve come a long way,” says Creveling. “But from my research and my personal experience as a woman in sport, I know we have even further to go. With people like Dr. Hillyer and Dr. Spellings leading the charge, I have no doubt that future generations will know a more equal world.”
Listen to the podcast Strong Women. Better World.
Listen to the podcast IX at 50: The Lady Vols Experience
Pre-order the book Strong Women. Better World.: Title IX’s Global Effect
Help women and girls in sport around the world by supporting the Center for Sport, Peace, and Society.