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Legacy of Maui’s Patsy Mink lives on in Title IX

50th anniversary of landmark legislation celebrates equity for women and girls

U.S. Rep. Patsy Mink, D-Hawaii, meets reporters on Capitol Hill on Nov. 5, 1997, to call on the Senate Judiciary Committee to support Bill Lann Lee’s nomination to head the Justice Department’s civil rights division. The arrival of Title IX and its protections for American women was a long time coming and the result of hard work from the likes of Jeannette Rankin, Shirley Chisholm, Eleanor Roosevelt, Patsy Mink and more. AP file photo

KAHULUI — Maui-born and raised activist and politician Patsy Takemoto Mink taught women and girls everywhere to stand up for their beliefs and rights, even if it means standing alone.

Those lessons linger decades later as today marks the 50th anniversary of Title IX, a landmark legislation that Mink championed in 1972 that gave girls and women equal access and treatment in education, athletics, employment and more.

“She talks about Title IX as not something just in the past, but you have to have this internal vigilance about it because it can be taken away, it can be interpreted in a way that loses its impact,” said Judy Wu, who co-authored Mink’s first-ever biography “Fierce and Fearless.” “You need to be vigilant, you need to pay attention and assert your voice and to demand what is right even when it’s not popular, even if you feel like you’re alone because by taking that stance you invite other people to also speak with true value — that’s the lesson I’d like to share about Patsy Mink.”

Wu spoke at a presentation on Tuesday hosted by the University of Hawaii Maui College and the American Association of University Women celebrating “our local hero.” The event drew about 25 people in person and another 45 online.

Professor and co-author Gwendolyn “Wendy” Mink, Patsy Mink’s daughter, talked about having the “willingness to fight,” much like her mother had throughout her life until her passing in 2002.

In this Nov. 21, 1979 file photo, Bella Abzug (left), and Patsy Mink of Women USA sit next to Gloria Steinem as she speaks in Washington where they warned presidential candidates that promises for women’s rights will not be enough to get their support in the next election. Title IX, the law best known for its role in gender equity in athletics and preventing sexual harassment on campuses, is turning 50 today. It was signed into law by President Richard Nixon on June 23, 1972, after being shepherded through Congress in part by Rep. Patsy Mink, a Democrat from Hawaii who was the first woman of color elected to the U.S. House. AP file photo

“Identify your principles, the things that matter to you and to the people around you, stand up for them and keep on fighting it and defending those principles,” said Wendy Mink, who appeared remotely at the event via Zoom.

“Figure out ways to work towards the goals that those principles embrace. That’s how you should live your life.”

STRONG ROOTS

Patsy Mink was born in 1927 near the sugar plantation camp in Paia. She was raised a third-generation Japanese American daughter of Japanese emigrants, and the family of 11 lived in a shack by Waikamoi Stream while she went to school in Makawao, according to Wendy Mink, who read a few pages of her mother’s biography during the event on Tuesday.

Patsy Mink attended Maui High School — she was a sophomore when Pearl Harbor was attacked — where she eventually became the student body president as a senior. She received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

Co-author Judy Wu of “Fierce and Fearless” leads a book discussion about Maui-born and raised Congresswoman Patsy Mink on Tuesday morning inside the Ike Le‘a building on the University of Hawaii Maui College campus. The Maui News / DAKOTA GROSSMAN photo

Despite the challenges at the time of finding work as a female Asian-American attorney, who was also married and had a daughter, Mink continued to stand up for equal opportunities for herself.

From her childhood in the Valley Isle to her long career in politics, Mink always investigated “institutional barriers” and how might the “law be changed so that there are more resources and the recognition” for those who are oppressed, Wu said.

Because of her diligence, Mink achieved a lot of firsts.

She became the first Japanese American woman licensed to practice law in Hawaii, the first woman of color elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1956 and the first woman elected to Congress in 1964 — she served in the House for 24 years until she passed away on Oahu in 2002.

Mink was also the first Asian American woman to run for president in 1971, which was during the Vietnam War. Though unsuccessful, it showed her passion for the people and that “you can do anything,” said Wu.

“Whenever she passed a bill, she would always contact people in Hawaii and say ‘OK, this is available now, go fight for these funds,’ “ Wu said. “It all provides an inspiration for action and leadership at other levels in government.”

After much advocacy, Mink championed Title IX as part of the Education Amendments of 1972.

Wu said Mink often faced backlash and fought with other lobbyists or politicians who were “trying to dilute the impact of Title IX,” but she held strong to empower women in perpetuity.

“The point of Title IX is the inclusion of everyone in an opportunity, however that opportunity should be,” said Wendy Mink. “I think my mother thought compromise was something that you needed to know when to do. … The right thing is what drove her decision-making, enacting legislation that was going to be useful for people is what drove her decision-making.”

And that statement rings true. Whether it was opposing detrimental U.S. nuclear testing in the Pacific, pushing for much-needed child care and support for working moms, and other civil liberties, Mink was committed to race, gender and class equality, as well as peace and environmental justice.

“I wanted to express how Patsy Mink came from Maui, came from the Hawaiian islands,” Wu added. “I think this experience and this world view was so fundamental in shaping her political values.”

After her death, Title IX was renamed the Patsy Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act.

TITLE IX, A LIVING DOCUMENT

Five decades later, Title IX stands as federal law that prohibits that any United States citizen “be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination” on the basis of sex under any education program or activity receiving federal funding.

The legislation expanded opportunities for women and girls in sports; in the science, technology, engineering and math fields at schools; any fields in the workplace; as well as improved protections for pregnant and parenting mothers alike and against sexual harassment, according to AAUW.

Today, women make up a larger portion of college student enrollment at nearly 60 percent, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.

Women make up around 44 percent of all National Collegiate Athletic Association athletes, compared to 15 percent before Title IX, according to the NCAA Sports Sponsorship and Participation Report.

Male-to-female ratio for athletic opportunities in colleges and universities is now nearly equal (56 to 43 percent, respectively), according to the report.

Among enrollment at Hawaii high schools, the field is evening out. About 48 percent of students are female and 52 percent of students are male as of 2021, according to the state Department of Education.

The number of youth girls in sports has grown exponentially, too. Before Title IX, there were fewer than 300,000 participation slot opportunities, but now there are nearly 3 million, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations.

Patsy T. Mink Field at Maui High School and the Patsy T. Mink Central Oahu Regional Park are named in Mink’s honor for what she accomplished for fairness in sport.

It’s also a pivotal moment for the legislation as officials and advocates wrestle with its interpretation in the 21st century.

Last year, the U.S. Department of Education announced it would enforce Title IX’s prohibition on sex discrimination to include sexual orientation and gender identity, to address harassment of the LGBTQ+ community in academic or extracurricular settings.

These initiatives to spread protections for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students have sparked praise across the nation, but also some confusion and concern over the participation of transgender athletes in competitions.

At least 19 states, not including Hawaii, have already enacted laws or issued statewide policies that bar or limit transgender athletes’ participation in sports, the Associated Press reported.

Effective Monday, the International Swimming Federation also created a policy to require transgender competitors to have completed their transition by age 12 to be able to compete in elite women’s water sports and proposed the creation of an “open division,” according to FINA.

Several lawsuits are challenging the policies restricting participation based on gender identity, according to the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division.

When asked during the presentation about these changes and interpretations of Title IX, Gwendolyn Mink said that she supported inclusion.

“If there are challenges as to how that inclusion takes place, then we should figure that out, but I don’t think that any of the transphobic proposals are the way to go, and I don’t think that the blanket exclusion of individuals based on their gender identity is the way to go,” Mink said. “So language on sex discrimination has always been interpreted in two ways in public policy — sometimes sex discrimination has been referred to as gender discrimination and sometimes gender discrimination has been referred to as sex discrimination, and it’s hard to pin an argument on the terminology that was used in a certain motive in time.”

* Dakota Grossman can be reached at dgrossman@mauinews.com.

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