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Title IX pioneer Donna Shavlik to speak at Morgridge event

In the early 1950s, high school student Donna Shavlik had her heart set on pursuing studies in botany at Colorado State University. Until, that is, she met the chair of the botany department.

“This gentleman,” she recalls, “he was one of the old-time people. … When I said that I wanted to major in botany, he said, ‘That’s nice, but girls aren’t botanists.’”

Oh really? Today, women aren’t just botanists, they’re chairing university botany departments. They’re also leading Ivy League institutions, directing athletics programs and helming college boards.

And Shavlik has played a historic role in making all of that happen. As the former director of the Office of Women in Higher Education at the American Council on Education (ACE), the Colorado native spent much of her career working on women’s equity and leadership issues. She also helped shape the regulations associated with Title IX, the 1972 federal law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender in any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.

Shavlik, now retired, will share her experiences and explore “The Ever-Changing Landscape for Women’s Education” during an interview at the Morgridge College of Education Alumni Board’s Spring Signature Event. Scheduled for Tuesday, April 3, in Ruffatto Hall, the event opens with a reception at 6 p.m. The interview follows at 6:45. The event is free, and the public is invited. (RSVP at

After her initial encounter with the naysaying botanist, Shavlik went on to earn a degree in horticulture — a discipline, she says, that welcomed women. She also became involved in the Intercollegiate Association of Women Students, an organization that provided leadership opportunities and encouraged her to focus her efforts on women’s education.

Before taking her post at the American Council on Education, Shavlik studied at the University of Kansas and spent some time as director of student activities at the Colorado Women’s College, now the University of Denver Women’s College. She also worked for universities in Delaware and Alabama. In the heart of Dixie, she encountered segregation and discrimination unlike anything she had experienced in her home state.

“I was both unprepared and ill-suited to that climate,” she says, noting that her experience in Alabama nonetheless counts as a career highlight because it confirmed her commitment to “work for the rights of white women, women of color and men of color.”

Shavlik joined the American Council on Education a few months after the passage of Title IX. As part of a team tasked with influencing the regulations associated with the law, Shavlik learned a lot about how to contend with resistance to change.

“The regulations became the thing that we all worked on for three years, until the regulations were passed in 1975. That was a tough time because there was a lot of consternation on the part of Congress. We had to do a lot of educating. I guess you’d call it lobbying,” she says.

Shavlik takes special pride in her signature contribution to the regulations — a provision requiring every institution to conduct a self-evaluation of its efforts to comply with the law.

Shavlik’s contributions go well beyond Title IX, and in recognition of her long service, the ACE created an award in her name. The Donna Shavlik Award is presented annually to an individual who demonstrates commitment to the advancement of women.

Surveying women’s opportunities in education today, Shavlik is both concerned and delighted. She’s concerned because so many women still believe they have to behave like men to succeed. “What bothers me most is that it still seems to be difficult for women to be what I call ‘authentic’ in their positions,” she explains.

On the other hand, she’s delighted because women have made remarkable strides.

“Women are becoming a tour de force,” Shavlik says. “We now have the first woman president at Harvard. I thought we would have the first woman president of the United States before we would have a woman president at Harvard.”


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