THE VFA PIONEER HISTORIES PROJECT
Montgomery County Council Human Rights Hall of Fame
Dr. Bernice Sandler Interview
Published on November 8, 2012
I am so pleased and honored to be chosen for this because I’m from the state of Maryland. I live in the state of Maryland and my children were born here. I’ve lived in Montgomery County for a long time and to be honored and particularly for Human Rights, it truly is an honor. The problem that I have with it is that you never do these things by yourself. There were just lots of people who made it possible and they rarely get the kind of credit. We’re talking about hundreds and hundreds of women who helped make it possible. Sometimes people ask me what inspired me to get involved in women’s issues.
I Have to Tell You – I Wasn’t Inspired at All – I Was Mad.
I was at the University of Maryland – I had gotten my doctoral degree there. I was teaching there and I was a good teacher and they had several openings all at once and I wasn’t even considered. So I went and asked one of my friends on the faculty – without missing a beat he said – “Well let’s face it you come on too strong for a woman”. I went home and I cried and my then husband was really very good – he said, “Are there strong men in the department?” I said yes. He said – “Then it’s not you, it’s sex discrimination”. It took me a while to realize that’s what it was and then I got mad and I started reading up about discrimination and women’s issues and rights and so forth.
And Then I Truly Became Inspired.
I first assumed that because discrimination was clearly wrong and immoral that it must be illegal. This is at the height of the civil rights movement so I feel it certainly must be illegal and I began reading up and found out very quickly that sex discrimination in education against women as faculty or administrators or against students was perfectly legal. I said that doesn’t seem fair at all and I started reading up on what African-Americans had done with civil rights. I came across a little-known presidential executive order, which I’ve never heard of which said contractors can’t discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin or sex. I literally screamed when I realized that sex meant sex discrimination here and that there was a way to do something legally.
I’m Making a Long Story Short.
Eventually a lot of people helped along the way again. Eventually I filed charges of sex discrimination against 250 colleges and the universities. Other people filed charges. Representative Edith Green of Ohio was interested in this, she’d been looking for data and she’d been looking for constituents. I came along. She introduced Title IX. I testified at the hearings. I put the hearings together and I’d been involved with Title IX in one form or another for the last 40 or more years. I think Title IX is the most important law that’s been passed for women and girls since women got the right to vote. I do a lot of traveling around. I’ve given probably close to 3,000 presentations at colleges and universities all over the country. I talk about Title IX. I talk about sexual harassment. Years ago my office put out the first national report on campus sexual harassment.
I Talk a Lot About the Chilly Climate.
Title IX doesn’t quite cover. But the chilly climate is the subtle ways in which women are often treated. And women do the same thing – they treat other women as well that way. It’s not only women, its people of color and disabled people, older people. It’s anyone who’s not like the rest of us. And the “us” keeps key shifting. But women get interrupted more, they get less eye contact and they get called by name less often. They often get less praise, they get less feedback, and sometimes somebody else gets credit for their suggestions and so forth. So I do a lot of talking about that and one of the strategies for dealing with that – how do you intervene when you see someone do it? And a number of issues that almost all of it related to women including the history of Title IX. When we first started working on Title IX we obviously wanted to get rid of the overt policies and practices. And we have gotten rid of a lot of them – not all but a lot of them.
It Took Longer Than Expected
I think what surprised many of us – particularly those there at the beginning – I thought it would take a year or so to take care of everything and it didn’t. But I think the real surprise has been that it’s been like a social revolution. We didn’t know that at the beginning. We thought it was just a little bit of discrimination here and there. But it’s a social revolution that will have as much impact as the industrial revolution. It’s a global revolution and what happens in the United States affects what happens in the rest of the world as well. So it’s a pretty important thing that I did – along with so many other people.