Women in Science AND Sports

by Megan Harberts

I am a physics graduate student, but outside of school and work I have lots of hobbies and interests, including athletics. During the school year I play on the Ohio State Women’s Club Water Polo team and during the summer I participate in a co-ed soccer league. I have always been aware of the struggles women have faced to have careers in science and understood the significance of the women scientists before me who helped break down those barriers to allow me to study physics, but I never thought much about the women who did that for athletics.

I recently read an opinion article on the 40th anniversary of Title IX. For those of you who don’t know, Title IX legislation passed in 1972 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” –Title IX

This article made me think about how different things were for women in many respects in past generations. For example, the OSU physics department hosts the Girls Reaching to Achieve in Physics and Sports (GRASP) camp every year for middle school-aged girls to learn the concepts of physics with different sport activities, but most likely 50 years ago the university would never have held a camp, encouraging women to participate in either science or sports. There really are a lot of parallels between the struggles of female athletes and female scientists, but luckily for girls today you can be an athlete or a scientist or both if you choose.

Before really looking into what Title IX means, I, like most people thought that it only had an impact on athletics. For example, I had always heard if your school has football then they also have to have a women’s only sport, such as volleyball, to balance it out. But if you read how it’s the statement is written, it does not explicitly say anything about athletics and it does have broad implication for classes and studies as well.

Some of the consequences of this law are highlighted in this article which discusses the achievements made in many different areas of education and athletics, but the numbers of women in STEM fields still lag far behind. Unfortunately some people do not think this is a problem. I, however, think there is still more that can be done when I look around at how few female graduate students there are in my own program and even fewer female professors. I also believe that science and engineering has been extremely important in creating the successful and innovative country that America is today, and to stay successful we have to get more people of both sexes involved in STEM fields.

On this 40th of anniversary of the Title IX legislation it is interesting to think about what opportunities this legislation has provided for women and what we can strive to achieve with the freedoms from discrimination it has provided us. If you are interested in learning more history and context for Title IX, I highly recommend checking out this site that I stumbled upon.

Here is a photo of my water polo team at the Big 10 Championships this past year, I am the second one from the left in the second row:

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About Megan Harberts

I grew up in Albuquerque, New Mexico in a science-oriented family. I always knew I wanted to be a scientist and decided on physics in high school. I got my bachelor’s in physics and mathematics from New Mexico State University.  I am currently a physics graduate student at OSU starting my 4th year of graduate school where I do research in experimental condensed matter on organic spintronic devices. Just leave me a comment if you want to know more!

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