Early Title IX Complaint Sparked a Public Service Career for Seattleite Anne Levinson

In a yellowed University of Kansas student newspaper clipping dated May 9, 1978, then-KU sophomore Anne Levinson announced her intention to file a complaint with the Department of Health, Education and Welfare when The deadline for compliance with Title IX was approaching.

“I have an internal feeling that no one really believes that women deserve equal treatment,” Levinson said.

President Richard Nixon had signed Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 into law: “No person in the United States shall, on the ground of sex, be excluded from participation, be denied the benefits of, or be discriminated against under no concept. educational program or activity that receives federal financial assistance.

However, the change was not immediate or easy. He required a prod. He still does.

“Those 37 words changed what was possible in our country for women and girls, and I know firsthand the difference it made in so many of our lives, including mine,” said Levinson, a longtime Seattle resident.

“After five decades, it is still vitally important that we build on the legacy, but understand that much remains to be done.”

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Fully immersed in field hockey, Levinson arrived at KU in 1976 with the promise of a scholarship, the only one, once the young man who used it graduated. Women’s sport was included in the university budget and was a “misery” compared to men’s, which was financed privately.

Levinson and the field hockey team enjoyed a successful season. But later, the university announced that it would no longer fund the sport.

“That was it. No discussion,” he said.

“Many of the women were afraid. They were told: stay in your lane. This is not your fight. Just play your sport, and if you need money, you can have a bake sale. Don’t interrupt things. Don’t screw up the apple cart, don’t make trouble.

“It developed in me this innate tenacity to stand up for other people and not sit idly by if something seemed unfair or unfair.”

Levinson sought the help of student government leaders, who seemed willing and even eager to clash again with the university administration. As the trial unfolded, he was covered by an ambitious student newspaper reporter assigned to women’s sports.

One of his most loyal and unlikely allies was art history professor Elizabeth “Betty” Banks. Banks encouraged Levinson to investigate a complaint from her and said she would back it up.

“It was encouraging to hear about your efforts with student athletes,” Banks wrote in a letter on March 1, 1978, offering to help.

“…There is much more that can be done and I hope that with the involvement of more advisors who respond to the needs of female athletes, we can do better.”

***

Emboldened and educated, Levinson noted all the possible categories of inequity, “which I only later learned were highly unusual.”

Scholarships, healthcare, housing, transportation, equipment, coaches, facility availability – she cast a wide net.

“In every way you could measure, it was very inequitable,” Levinson said. “In those days it was not seen as a concern. The university community, the alumni, it just wasn’t on the radar.”

True to his word, Banks also filed a complaint.

The matter took years to resolve. After Title IX was passed, there was a delay in implementing the regulations, and Levinson said it wasn’t until around 1977 that a process was put in place.

The university yielded to the state legislature, so Levinson employed a headline-grabbing style. She organized a relay in which coaches and athletes from each of the 10 women’s varsity sports at KU crossed the nearly 30-mile distance from Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence to the state capital in Topeka with a petition rolled up and passed as a baton.

They were received by the governor and representative Ruth Luzzati, who said they would get down to business.

“If I had known how difficult it was going to be when I started, I might not have done it, but once I started, I felt like I would be letting everyone down,” Levinson said.

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Kansas was one of eight universities deemed “top priorities” by the Department of Education for review of alleged violations of Title IX; Washington state was another. Six federal investigators arrived in Lawrence. Banks and Levinson were the first interviewees, he said.

Kansas was ultimately given 90 days to develop a compliance plan or risk losing up to $27 million in federal funds. The university reached an agreement to remedy the areas of inequity that Levinson had pointed out.

It wasn’t resolved until Levinson moved East to study law, an option he hadn’t considered before his sport was threatened.

“What the fight against Title IX taught me was that it was very important to understand the law, to understand where the levels of authority came from, where the levers of power came from,” Levinson said. “I didn’t have any of those tools when I was a student.

“It was very much a David and Goliath battle. I learned that if I was going to be successful in these kinds of meaningful advocacy efforts, I really needed to gain skills in this way.”

Some claimed that his movement would condemn men’s sports. What would become one of the most high-profile Title IX cases in the country had dominated his college career. But in education and outreach, Levinson honed a lifelong approach: seeking common ground rather than demonizing the opposition.

***

Del Shankel, who served as KU’s chancellor twice, was assigned to negotiate for the university’s administration and often the towering figure on the other side of the table.

“I thought he was kind of Darth Vader from my time there, because we had to fight so often,” Levinson said.

Years later, long after she had settled in Seattle and begun a long and diverse career in public policy, Levinson got a call from Shankel. They met for a tearful cup of coffee.

Levinson learned that his 19-year-old self’s adversary was a “lovely human being” in a difficult position.

“He told me what all those battles meant to him and how difficult it had been for him to have to represent the position of the university, because he was so proud of what we were doing,” Levinson said.

“He told me that all his granddaughters had played sports and he knew that this would not have been possible if we had not done what we had done in those years. He just wanted to thank me.

During her time as a Seattle judge, Levinson founded and presided over one of the first mental health courts in the country to help people with mental illness move out of the criminal legal system and connect them to services. She was deputy mayor for Norm Rice and was involved in the fight against Enron’s deregulation of the energy industry. One of the state’s first openly LGBTQ public officials, she was a founding board member of Hands Off Washington and The Privacy Fund.

Levinson stepped down from the bench 20 years ago to recommit to LGBTQ+ advocacy work. He led the reforms of Washington’s child welfare system and the handling of domestic violence and sexual assault. He has also worked on gun safety, campaign finance transparency, and police accountability.

***

It was based on the fight for Title IX in the mid-2000s, when the fate of the NBA Sonics was changing. The WNBA Storm was also set to move to Oklahoma, but Levinson, a fan, didn’t hear much about that threat.

“It was as if they were invisible. Nobody was trying to save them,” Levinson said. “They were like the flea on the elephant, so to speak, because the men had all the money, all the resources.”

He wanted to see if the potential ownership group would consider separating Storm from Sonics. He found sponsors and used contacts. Everything was done in silence.

“We wouldn’t have saved Storm if he hadn’t had that Title IX experience,” Levinson said. “There’s no way he would have thought she had the ability or the relationships to do that.”

Sue Bird probably would have left Seattle if not for those efforts. Bird said Storm acknowledged that a package deal would move the team to Oklahoma City.

“I remember finishing the 2007 season and literally saying in the media, (when) people were asking about it, ‘It’s really sad to think that that might have been the last time I played in a Seattle jersey,'” Bird said.

“So the ownership group stepped up.”

Fifty years have brought progress, not perfection. Future generations will not know the struggle to get to the current reality, and that was the goal all along.

“We have to win the battles of this generation. Title IX remains a fundamentally important pillar to do that,” Levinson said. “The kind of fights that 50 years ago people didn’t even see on the horizon, now that same law is being used.”

Reporter Percy Allen contributed to this story.

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