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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Suzanne Post, June 23, 2006. Interview U-0178. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Post becomes aware of gender-based injustice in the school system

Post's work on racial equality in the schools alerted her to the gendered inequalities within the educational system. She describes how she organized a group of volunteers, assessed the situation in the schools, alerted governmental watch-groups, and pushed for change.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Suzanne Post, June 23, 2006. Interview U-0178. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

So I was out there for a couple years watching what they were doing and in the process, I started to realize that whatever it was they were doing bad for black kids, they were doing bad for girls, for female students. I had become aware of a project that the National Organization of Women had got funding for called the PEER Project—Project for Equal Educational Resources or some such. The PEER Project had devised questionnaires to be used by monitors in schools to determine the degree to which Title IX was being complied with. Now Title IX, it's sort of interesting the way all this interacted. The school desegregation lawsuit was filed in '72. It wasn't effective until Judge Gordon demanded that it happen in September—I think it was September or maybe it was August—of '75. Title IX, which was the federal law saying that any educational institution receiving federal financial assistance had to provide equal opportunities to girls and boys, it annoys me to this very day, thirty years later, that newspapers and other groups refer to Title IX as if it only related to athletics. Title IX relates to everything, counseling, curriculum, opportunities for teachers, everything.
SARAH THUESEN:
What sort of violations of Title IX with regard to gender were you seeing?
SUZANNE POST:
I'm about to tell you.
SARAH THUESEN:
Oh okay, good.
SUZANNE POST:
Because it's one of the high points of my life. It was just so joyful. This is all by way saying to you that in the course of being in the school building so long, something in me gave birth to this notion that they're doing this to black kids, but what are we doing to girls? I somehow became aware of the NOW PEER Project. So I wrote to NOW or maybe I went up there. I know I went up there a couple of times to Washington. At any rate, I got copies of their survey instruments and they had survey instruments for everybody, for students, for teachers, for principals, for coaches, for parents, for vocational education teachers, for assistant principals, for school board members, for the superintendent of the school system. I mean, there were twelve or thirteen different instruments. I looked at them and I thought, "Boy, this is really cool if I could get people to go into the schools and could get them to use these instruments to find out what this school system is doing vis-a-vis its female population." And I was young, let's don't forget. I was much younger and I had an enormous amount of energy and an enormous amount of rage in terms of inequities of any kind. At the same time I'm sort of watching the school system for violations on the basis of race, I proceeded to go out into the community and recruit volunteers who would work with me and with the Human Relations Commission and go into the schools with these questionnaires and get answers. So I went to the National Council of Jewish Women. I went to the League of Women Voters. I went to church women's groups. I went to any organized woman's group I could think of and I announced at their meetings that we needed to know how our schools were treating our girls and I needed volunteers in order to implement this survey. So I ended up with about thirty different volunteers. One of the assistant principals—no, he was assistant superintendent of the school system, a friend of mine, an African-American friend of mine, told me to call a woman who worked at the Race and Sex Desegregation Center in Florida. She had done some training for him. Her name was Dr. Norma Mertz and I called and she came up for free. I had these volunteers. I had a massive meeting. I think I had food, but I'm not sure. Being a Jewish mother, I probably did. I can't remember exactly. We had one of the meeting training sessions over at the League of Women Voters building. I can't remember where we had the second one, but we did have two different trainings. We took these women and Norma was wonderful. She told them very explicitly what Title IX allowed and what it didn't allow. And these are women who had never heard of the thing, you know? Really, in '75, very few people had. So she's teaching them about a law that had been enacted, it was passed in '72 and became effective in '75, that had become enacted, that could be a great tool for us women to use to secure for us women the same kind of equitable education that guys got, supposedly. After doing this training twice in two different groups and we were very clear in talking to these women that if we found violations in the schools, that we would write a letter to the Office of Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Education, which had enforcement authority, so that we had a tool that we could use against the schools if they were violating Title IX. So the next thing I had to do was get permission from the school system to let these people in. The only reason I was able to get that was because the acting superintendent of the Jefferson County school system, a man named Dave DeRuzzo, had been brought in to sort of clean up the school system. He was sort of a hatchet man and he saw me as being a principle catalyst in the racial change in the school system. He believed that he better do this. And the associate superintendent who had drafted the school desegregation plan was a man named Frank Rapley and he was a friend of mine. So I called him and I said, "Frank, I want to get these volunteers in the public schools to see where we stand on sex equity." He said, "Well, send me the instruments and I'll look them over." So I sent them the whole thing and he said, "Okay," which was truly amazing. If the system hadn't been in such a state of fluid flux because of deseg, I never would have gotten them into there. There is no way. We turned them loose and they usually went in teams and they interviewed principals, coaches, students, parents, all these different interest groups. Then we sent a second group in. We had two groups. At the end of the period of time that it took for these two groups to do these surveys, I took the surveys and with a friend a mine, who worked for the American Friends Service Committee, a little office here monitoring schools, and she was a very fastidious woman.
SARAH THUESEN:
Who was that?
SUZANNE POST:
Her name was Marian Keyes and she's now in West Virginia, a wonderful woman. She was very precise. I did everything half-assed and slapdash. I wanted the results and I was always ahead of myself and I'm not a careful person. I don't balance my checkbook. I don't even know what I've got in the bank most of the time. I go to an ATM machine to see. I mean, I hate that kind of stuff. I'm a big brush stroke kind of person and I can only do what I can do when I'm working with somebody like Marian, who crosses the t's and the dots on the i's. So when we get all these results back, she and I got together and we had to read every one of these questionnaires that our volunteers turned on. After we read it and compiled the results, we found twenty-eight violations of Title IX. After finding that, I drafted a letter to the Office of Civil Rights in Atlanta alleging that the Jefferson County Board of Education was in massive violation of Title IX and I listed every one of the violations. Is this interesting to you? Does this help?
SARAH THUESEN:
Yeah.
SUZANNE POST:
Having gotten my letter, they contacted me and the Board of Education and said that they were sending up a team to look into the schools to see if they could substantiate our claim of violation. They sent up six people who were here for one week fanning out and going into the schools and checking these. The head of the team and I just love this, I just love this, the head of the team for OCR was a woman named Marge Justice. She was blonde and beautiful and buxom. It was just perfect. So they go back to Atlanta after they do this on-site and it wasn't very long, about a month later, the Board of Education and I got a letter. They substantiated twenty-seven of the twenty-eight violations. The one that they didn't substantiate, which I think was a mistake, I alleged that corporal punishment was used on the boys and not on the girls. They didn't consider that a violation. I don't know what it is. It's chivalry dies hard. I mean, get rid of corporal punishment. So when all that happened, there was really—oh what year was this? This must have been in '77. So the schools are embroiled in deseg and now they're going to be embroiled in Title IX. Marge comes up to meet with the administration in the board room at headquarters. The board room had this huge long table as board rooms want. Every damned principal and assistant principal and superintendent is sitting around this table. Of course, in those days, to be a superintendent, you had to be a coach. All the superintendents had been coaches. So they go through this letter issue by issue and say, "Well, okay. We'll try and do something about that." They were resistant, but they weren't passionately resistant until we get to my complaint that the girls' basketball practice was at mealtime. No, the girls' games were at mealtime and the boys' games were after dinner, which meant that the girls' games had fewer attendees than the boys' games had. All hell broke loose when she starts telling them they have to alternate. I mean, it was like the world is going to end next Wednesday. They were visibly shaken when she told them that that's what they had to do. There were a couple more things like that that were athletically-inclined. [Phone ringing] [Recorder is turned off and then back on.]
SUZANNE POST:
Getting back to Title IX, every issue involving athletics just freaked them out. Spending the same amount of money on trophies, "Oh my God, we can't do that. We don't have enough money." That was crazy. Uniforms, "Oh my God, we can't do that." Travel by bus instead of getting their parents to get them to the game, "Oh my God, we can't do that." Every single thing that touched on athletics was like poison. She just sat there and she was just totally unruffled: "Well, you have to do that. This school system gets x amount of millions of dollars in federal financial assistance and you don't want to lose it." So the long and the short of it was that they agreed. She said she would be back in, I think, three months she gave them to see what kind of progress they'd made, and she left.