Dr. Bernice Sandler, whose experiences of sex discrimination on a college campus in the 1960s became the basis for sweeping reforms to ensure an equitable learning environment for women, died last weekend at the age of 90.
Sandler had "embarked on a lifelong mission to change the culture of sex discrimination on college campuses," said the National Organization for Women (NOW) president Toni Van Pelt in a statement. "She spent decades documenting, investigating, and working to change the arbitrary limits and sexist standards that held women back academically and professionally."
"Title IX turned out to be the legislative equivalent of a Swiss Army knife. It opened up opportunities in so many areas we didn't foresee, and [Bernice] laid the essential groundwork for it all." —Marty Langelan, sexual harassment expert
After becoming fed up with casually sexist remarks dismissing her accomplishments and her potential as a professor, Sandler embarked on a campaign that paved the way for Title IX, the educational civil rights law that has forced schools across the country to work to root out discrimination on the basis of sex or gender.
One colleague at the University of Maryland, where Sandler taught part-time, had told her she "came on too strong for a woman," while an interviewer dismissed her as "just a housewife who went back to school" after she'd obtained a doctorate in education in 1969.
Sandler responded by approaching the National Organization for Women (NOW) with research she'd compiled on sex discrimination, forming the foundation of a class action complaint she and the group filed in 1970 with the Labor Department.
Congressional hearings and Title IX legislation followed, with President Richard Nixon signing it into law in 1972. The law has protected women on college campuses from sexual harassment, required that men and women have equal access to all campus resources, and opened doors for female athletes.
"Title IX turned out to be the legislative equivalent of a Swiss Army knife," Marty Langelan, an expert in sexual harassment, told the New York Times. "It opened up opportunities in so many areas we didn't foresee, and [Bernice] laid the essential groundwork for it all."
Women's rights organizations celebrated Sandler's life and work on social media, expressing gratitude for the effect she had on the lives of women across the country.
— National NOW (@NationalNOW) January 9, 2019
Rest in power Dr. Bernice Sandler https://t.co/RnWQXl02o3
— Domestic Workers (@domesticworkers) January 9, 2019
“Every woman who has gone to college, gotten a law degree or a medical degree, was able to take shop instead of home-ec, or went to a military academy really owes her a huge debt.”
Thank you for your world-altering work. We will all continue the fight.https://t.co/npVkrY8Ai2
— TIME'S UP (@TIMESUPNOW) January 9, 2019