Graphic by Vincent Ta
Graphic by Vincent Ta

At the 2008 Australian Open, Venus Williams, an advocate for gender equality within the sport of tennis, bellowed: “There is nothing against right. Right is right. Wrong is wrong. And I’m not a fool.”

Over six years later and 8,000 miles away, a similar conversation unravelled in the confines of a traditional office on the campus of UC Riverside. Janet Lucas, executive associate athletic director and senior women’s administrator, witnessed the passage and effects of Title IX, a 1972 law banning sexual discrimination in education programs or activities that receive federal funds. She has seen the growth of women’s collegiate sports, but most of all perhaps, Lucas knows the importance of what is right and what is wrong within college athletics.

“From my perspective with Title IX, there is a difference between doing something because it’s mandated versus doing something because you choose to. And (that) aspect for me is when the culture starts to change because it’s the right thing to do, because the experience is valued, not because the law says you must do it in a certain way.”

On Feb. 26, UC Riverside hosted the fifth annual “99 for Title IX,” a fundraising event designed to raise money and awareness for UCR women’s athletes. Forty years after the passage of Title IX, which, despite its shortcomings, remains a revolutionary hallmark for female student athletes everywhere, patrons view the event as a symbol for the changing landscape of opportunity with collegiate athletics.

“This a fabulous event for us that we have had for five years. It was a strong statement to begin with and gets better every year,” Lucas stated. “It is the campus and local community really saying there is value to the opportunities provided to female athletes. Value on many levels. I know equity tends to be the nature of the conversation. By attending the event, you can see how people talk about their own experiences, what it brings to them.”

Chancellor Kim Wilcox opened his home to over 150 athletics supporters, each of whom donated at least $99 dollars. Behind “99 for Title IX” lies a strong community of lawyers, business professionals, city officials, former athletes and athletic directors, who strongly back the importance of women athletes having the best experience within college possible. One of those athletes was senior women’s basketball player Natasha Hadley, who was picked as the honorary student guest speaker.

“I thought it was amazing,” Hadley blushed. “It felt good being there and I really enjoyed giving my speech because it’s not just about equity and getting the scholarship, it’s about the people I have met since I’ve been here and the experiences that will never be taken from me. It’s amazing to have a group of people supporting me in that room who want that for other women and girls like myself.”

“I thought her speech was wonderful (because) it makes it real,” Lucas added. “(Title IX) is not just a law. It changed our culture. Our culture is still changing but it changed us a lot. I was participating as Title IX was being passed, so what opportunities are available to Natasha and her peers are light years different than what was available to me.”

UCR graduate Brenda Martinez, who was the first woman to medal in the 800-meter at the World Championships last year, was the night’s keynote speaker. The Olympic hopeful inspired her UCR peers to continue living in the legacy of women’s athletics and spoke of her experiences at the university and her overwhelming success on the track.

By the end of the night, smiles were abound and over $30,000 were raised, the most in the fundraiser’s five-year history.

Supporters of the event understood the importance of continuing to fight for women’s equality in collegiate sports. There is equal treatment on paper, but the culture reception leaves much to be desired.

“Are we where we want to be? Probably never because the opportunities are going to grow as our culture changes. One of the biggest step forward for us is when young men got married and had daughters,” Lucas explained. “And they see the experiences their daughters could and couldn’t have. And they wanted more for them. That was a tremendous component as well when we talk about really changing the foundation of the attitude towards women’s athletics.”

For one night, women’s athletics was praised. The Riverside community stood strong behind the belief of value in the college experience. The hope is for every day to be a day of equality for all, not because it is required, but because it is the right thing to do.

“Because we live and breathe the athletic experience, we understand what it feels like to be told no,” Lucas said. “We don’t want that to happen to someone else.”