Hannah Lawrence, high school student
“We sit for half an hour with the chills… half a dozen of us are sick now,” says rower Chris Ernest as she and her teammates express their outrage at Yale University’s administration for treating them as second class citizens despite the passage of Title IX four years earlier. While the men’s team enjoys a private boathouse and weight equipment, the women sit on the bus waiting for the men to finish their hot showers. But on this day, rather than sitting by as they are harshly discriminated against, they stand up for their rights. Opting against violent action, they chose instead to capture the nation’s attention by stripping off their warm ups and standing with their chests bared as they read the rights guaranteed female athletes by Title IX.
Embarrassingly, I admit that I was completely unaware of the struggle that so many female athletes endured until I happened upon Chris Ernst and her Title IX protest in my sophomore year of high school. I have been incredibly fortunate to go to school where I went to field hockey practice every day with more than adequate equipment, an available field and plenty of money for team dinners and transportation to games without ever questioning why my mom had never played sports, or why there weren’t any trophies for women’s sports in our school’s award case prior to the 1970’s.
The only time in my life that I have felt truly discriminated against because of my gender was when I joined a boys baseball team. Rather than building on the skills I had learned as a starting 3rd baseman and 5th in the lineup hitter on my girl’s softball team, I sat the bench. I hate to admit that I did not have nearly the same courage that Chris Ernst had. I sat quietly and went back to playing with the girls.
Yes, I have long abandoned my dream to be just like shortstop Omar Visquel, but I have a new passion for field hockey which has me striving not only for success on my high school team, but a possible college scholarship. Unlike my experience with baseball, I have had an incredible support system in field hockey. Although the administration sometimes needs reminding that we deserve field hockey balls just as much as the football team deservers footballs, my high school and coaches have done an incredible job supporting us. They celebrate the fact that our field hockey team went to district finals and our women’s soccer team beat the rivals for the 1st time in years. It is because of this that I was shocked to discover that people are able to show such hatred towards women in athletics.
My obsession with field hockey led me to choose the 1976 Yale crew team’s protest as my topic without realizing that it would spark my interest in Title IX and lead to Chris Ernst becoming a role model for me. I confess that the hours of analyzing old newspaper articles and reading the numerous pages of Title IX legislation was not always enjoyable, but the experience that I had far outweighs the work; it was an opportunity to truly change my outlook on my right to play the sport I am so passionate about.
By protesting, Chris Ernst not only captured the attention of a few university administrators, she ignited the outrage of a nation. She took a stand for women’s sports in such a way that risked the reputation of not only herself but her teammates, coaches and family. After months of sitting in the cold waiting for the men to shower, Chris Ernst won her battle and received the funding necessary to support the women’s crew team. I may never have the same guts that Chris Ernst has, but I now understand that it was partially because of Ernst that we have those state championship trophies for women’s sports and that my mom is finally learning how to play catch. I appreciate the opportunities I have to play field hockey without men jeering at us from the sidelines and school administrators turning their backs on me because of my gender, all because of Chris Ernst.