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Out of Bounds: Patsy Mink enlarged women's athletics

by Yonie K. Espiritue, Associate editor


After winning two gold medals in the 1964 Olympics, swimmer Donna de Varona could not obtain a college swimming scholarship. For women, it didn’t exist.

Pasty Mink changed that.

In the summer of 1972, Mink and Oregon congresswomen Edith Green proposed a bill, the first of its kind, which would prohibit sex discrimination against students and employers.

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The bill stated, “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subject to discrimination under any education program or activities receiving Federal financial assistance.” That bill was title IX. President Richard Nixon signed Title IX that same summer. It was enacted in 1977. The five-year delay allowed schools and colleges across the country enough time to adapt their policies, procedures, and budget.

This legislation allowed swimmers like Donna de Varona to receive scholarships for their athletic abilities. The year before this law was passed, the University of Hawai‘i was allotted $1 million by the government for scholarships. Only $5,000 of that was spent on women, mostly band majors.

Mink graduated from Maui High School in1944. Valedictorian of her class, she completed her undergraduate work at UH-Manoa. She then attended the University of Nebraska where, for the first time in her life, she faced the harsh reality of gender discrimination. She had several friends in the medical program there and had hoped to earn a medical degree herself. At Nebraska, as at any U.S. college at the time, female students were not allowed to take certain courses, such as auto mechanics or criminal justice, and they were required to have higher test scores and better grades than male applicants to gain admission. Furthermore, medical and law schools limited the number of women admitted to 15 or fewer per year. This inherent gender discrimination kept Mink from becoming a doctor, but it also fueled her ambition to change the discriminatory system. Mink never earned a degree in medicine, but she was accepted into the University of Chicago law school and graduated in1951.

She then found that getting a degree and getting a job were two completely different things. She returned to Hawai‘i, started her own practice, and taught at UH-Manoa. Mink become involved in politics, successfully ran for local offices and for the U.S. Congress. On January 4, 1965, Mink became the first lady of color in the U.S. House of Representatives.

This year Title IX has been in effect for 30 years. Women’s sports have increased 10 fold. HPU has created a position of senior women administrator to ensure that the University complies with gender equity rules. Our first compliance officer is a two-time national volleyball championship coach Reydan “Tita” Ahuna.

America’s female athlete talent pool has grown to new heights. Title IX created a competitive forum for athletes, such as Varona, to develop their talents and then take them to the international stage. It made positive examples such as the 1996 Summer Olympics, when the U.S. women, in their first year of softball and soccer of competition, walked away with gold medals.

Although not many women go on to win gold medals they were still able to finance a college education while representing their school on the field of play. In fact, 80 percent of women in Fortune 500 companies are beneficiaries of the Title IX, according to the Women’s Equity Resource center.

Pasty Mink will no longer serve in congress, but her insight and intuition will forever serve any young lady who lashes up her shoes and steps on a sports field. Every school-girl athlete should miss Patsy Mink.

Editor’s note: Yonie K. Espiritu is herself a product of Patsy Mink’s efforts to establish gender equity in U.S. colleges and universities. Espiritu attended HPU on a soccer scholarship and is in her senior year on a journalism scholarship.


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