Phyllis H. Carter
CHARLESTON – Despite popular perceptions, a significant piece of federal civil rights legislation is not just about women or women athletes, says West Virginia’s chief civil rights enforcer.
Though it has done many great things to empower women and women athletics, Title IX -– like other pieces of civil rights legislation -– is about making the playing field equal, and not giving preference to, both sexes, said Phyllis H. Carter, chief administrative law judge for the West Virginia Human Rights Commission.
“No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving financial assistance,” Carter said quoting from the text of Title IX stressing the word “person.”
Speaking before the Charleston-area League of Women Voters at its annual meeting last week at the University of Charleston, Carter regaled the audience of the many significant events that occurred in 1972, the year of Title IX’s passage. In addition to the re-election of President Richard M. Nixon – who signed Title IX of the Education Amendments Act to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 into law – 1972 saw the assassination attempt on Alabama Gov. George Wallace in Laurel, Maryland, the killing of the Israeli Olympic team by Palestinian terrorists in Munich, Germany, the Buffalo Creek disaster in Logan County and the birth of Charleston-native Jennifer Garner and her husband Ben Affleck.
“I had to throw that one in there,” Carter said jokingly about the latter. “The time was ripe for a Title IX.”
Benefiting from Title IX
In spite of Title IX, Carter said, 1972 also marked some milestones for women. That year, the first woman was admitted into Dartmouth College in Dartmouth, N.H., and the first two black women into the law school of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Va. -– herself and Sharon Coles.
Since her graduation from law school in 1975, Carter, 58, started her legal career in her hometown of Norfolk, Va., serving as managing attorney for the Tidewater Legal Aid Society. Later, Carter became assistant city attorney for Little Rock, Ark.
After moving to West Virginia in 1988 when her husband, Hazo W. Carter, Jr. accepted the presidency of West Virginia State College, Phyllis Carter worked in a variety of state government positions.
Among them were director of Federal and State Relations for former Gov. Gaston Caperton, counsel to the committees on Constitutional Revision, Political Subdivisions and Industry and Labor for the West Virginia House of Delegates and assistant Attorney General.
In her current capacity with the Human Rights Commission, Carter hears allegations of employment and public accommodation discrimination and violations of the West Virginia Fair Housing Act.
Because Title IX was written to prohibit gender discrimination in all educational programs receiving federal assistance, Carter said the law goes beyond athletics. In addition to athletics, Carter said career education, employment, sexual harassment, standardized testing and math and science are the areas addressed by Title IX
The latter, Carter said, enabled her daughter, Angela, to attend a summer math lab at West Virginia State throughout her high school years. Because of Angela’s exposure to math and sciences, she is now studying forensic science at Eastern Kentucky University in Richmond, Ky., Carter said.
“We still need to impress upon them [young women] the need to get degrees in math and sciences,” Carter said.
Though Title IX has made great strides prohibiting gender discrimination, Carter said there work still remains in bringing about complete gender equality. People must not grow complacent in thinking that just because a law has been on the books for 34 years that they can “ignore the reality that racial and gender discrimination still exist today.”
“I challenge you tonight to keep your eyes on the prize and build a United States that represents liberty and justice for all,” Carter said.
Though she declined to offer specifics on courses of action, especially when an audience member asked her input on controversy surrounding the women’s softball field at UC, Carter said the first step in settling any dispute is open dialog. Particularly at an institution of higher education, Carter said, college administrators will respond to pressure, if applied politely.
“We are here to serve students,” Carter said.
Also, Carter said that money always gets anybody’s attention.
“There’s always the thing of directed giving,” Carter said.