U.S. Rep. Patsy Mink's legacy lives on
By Constance H. Lau
The late Patsy Takemoto Mink was a woman far ahead of her time both in what she accomplished in her own personal life and in her vision and championing of women's rights long before it became acceptable and popular.
Today, 35 years after the historic passage of Title IX legislation, women in Hawai'i and throughout this nation enjoy an unprecedented level of gender equity and opportunity in sports and education. Congresswoman Mink's instrumental role in the enactment of Title IX was recognized by Congress when it renamed the 1972 landmark legislation, the Patsy T. Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act.
In her own life, she was a trailblazer who challenged limitations placed on her because she was a minority and a woman. When 12 medical schools denied her application because she was a woman, she went to law school. But even as a lawyer, she faced prejudice that regarded her gender as a liability. She responded to that kind of ignorance with an equal amount of tenacity and grace.
She became the first Japanese-American woman admitted to the Hawai'i bar. She was the first Asian-American woman elected to the state Legislature, and she was the first woman of color to get elected to a national office in 1964 when she was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
She became an unwavering voice for the disenfranchised, the poor and the forgotten. She believed that educational access and equity was a precondition to social justice. For many, it was her championing of equality for women that has become her legacy. She believed women, given the opportunity, could help transform the nation.
As a result of her unflinching leadership, Title IX was passed 35 years ago. And, from Title IX's enactment in 1972 until her death in 2002, Congresswoman Mink worked tirelessly to defend it against efforts to dilute and weaken it. One result of 35 years of Title IX enforcement across all levels of education is that the number of girls participating in high school athletics has increased by 904 percent. The number of women participating in college athletics has jumped by 456 percent. In 1972, before Title IX, female athletes received only about $100,000 in college scholarships nationwide. Today, they are awarded more than $617 million in scholarships.
But Title IX is about more than sports and is an issue that transcended the athletic arena. Title IX opened the doors of law schools and medical schools to women, enabled women to acquire nontraditional job skills, and pledged that all learning environments would empower women to fulfill their potential.
This year marks the 35th anniversary of the passage of Title IX. Not coincidentally, it also marks the 35th anniversary of the University of Hawai'i's women's athletic program — a program that has produced a national sports title by UH Wahine volleyball teams.
In this anniversary year UH, in partnership with American Savings Bank and Hawaiian Electric Industries, will honor Mink and celebrate its women's athletics program. A reception will be held in June on Capitol Hill in D.C., and a commemorative dinner Aug. 30 in Honolulu to celebrate and honor the occasion. The commemorative dinner is intended to raise funds for UH women's athletics and to establish a Patsy T. Mink scholarship endowment at UH. You will be hearing more about this event as we get closer to the date.
Hawai'i has been blessed with a long history of strong, insightful and caring women, who have assumed leadership roles in government, business, labor, academia, the professions and the community. Today, Hawai'i is being led by Gov. Linda Lingle, state Senate President Colleen Hanabusa, and U.S. Rep. Mazie Hirono, who follows in Mink's footsteps in the Congress. They are joined by countless other women leaders in all sectors of our island society.
But Congresswoman Mink's legacy reaches beyond sports and beyond women. Title IX opened the doors of access to all. Her principle was that everyone, regardless of gender or ethnicity, should have equal opportunity — something we should all uphold.
Constance H. Lau is chairwoman, president and chief executive officer of American Savings Bank and president and chief executive officer of Hawaiian Electric Industries Inc. She wrote this commentary for The Advertiser.