June 19, 2012
On June 23, 1972, President Richard Nixon signed the Patsy T. Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act. A portion of the law, known as Title IX, stated: "No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity." To recognize of the 40th anniversary of this groundbreaking legislation, CalBears.com will offer a series of features on the impact of Title IX at Cal
Monday: Chancellor Robert Birgeneau
Pat Spratlen Etem and her daughter, Elise, both rowers for the Golden Bears, provide varying perspectives on the impact of Title IX. Spratlen-Etem, a member of the Cal Athletic Hall of Fame, competed for the Bears from 1977-79 during the early stages of intercollegiate athletics for women on campus. She earned spots on the U.S. Olympic team for the 1980 and '84 Games and won several medals at the World Championships. Elise completed her Cal career this past spring when she was tabbed the 2012 Pac-12 Athlete of the Year for women's rowing. Originally a member of the Cal swimming team, she switched to rowing and helped the Bears to four conference team titles.
Pat Spratlen Etem Q&A
Jump to Elisa Etem Q&A
CalBears.com: What does Title IX mean to you personally?
Pat Spratlen Etem: I grew up during the Civil Rights era in a family of professors and advocates. Championing progressive policies that provide equal access to opportunity and that impact education and socioeconomic status positively for underrepresented groups was always a personal responsibility to impact the public good in my family. So, it has a personal meaning due to my obligation to helping make the world a better place through political advocacy. It also has a personal meaning for me in that I was able to access a sport, women's rowing, join a team and experience athletics at a very elite level. Title IX has a very deep meaning to me because it has given so many women the opportunity to discover entire dimensions of excellence within themselves, teammates, classmates, friends and co-workers that, as a population, we had not had access to prior to the adoption of Title IX.
I feel very grateful for the women, policymakers and organizations, such as the National Women's Law Center, who really pushed to make Title IX a reality. While I wasn't involved in that movement, I'm honored to have benefited. I'm also very grateful for the University of California and to its first women's rowing coach, Daig O'Connell. At the time, he began the program on a shoestring budget. Remember, compliance with Title IX was mandated for 1978. He began the program in 1976.
Title IX gave me, and so many other women, the opportunity to realize our full athletic and metaphysical potential. Cal women's crew was in its infancy when I was there, beginning in 1976, mandating equal numbers of sports opportunity for women, equal educational and scholarship opportunity. I'm not sure the year Cal actually attained the scholarship component; it was not during my time, but fortunately, the university has been steadfast about it. My daughter and her peers have certainly benefited and continue a legacy of championship scholarship and athletic performance, supported by the athletic department and university. So, again, Title IX has a deep meaning of family legacy for me. I always transition to the "we" because Title IX is about opportunity for women, not a single individual, and it's really about equal educational opportunity. One of the tools to attain equal educational opportunity is through equal sports opportunity.
At the time of the full implementation of Title IX in 1978 (the law was adopted in 1972 and colleges and universities had six years to comply), I was a junior at Cal and into my second full year of rowing. We were lucky to row at Briones Reservoir, and it was just beautiful. We were a close-knit team, and really the concept of "athletic scholarship" was somewhat baffling for us to grasp at the time. We were used to working, studying and juggling commitments. Our access to equipment (boats, boathouse, oars, coaching equipment, etc.) was certainly not on a par with the men's crew, which had long been an institution at Cal. But it was fun to be a part of something on the cusp, and we loved the collective challenge. We were a great team - Pac-10 champions, collegiate eight silver medalists in 1979, and in 1980, the Cal women won [the national title]. I was thrilled for them, though I graduated in 1979. Many of us are lifelong friends. Some 30 years since I rowed and my daughter joined the team, we all have continued to cheer on the banks on racing day; it's beautiful and empowering. I believe Title IX has probably helped the men's team, as well. I gather in 1978 there were hardly men's crew athletic scholarships on a scale that they exist today. So, Title IX has changed the landscape of access across the institution.
CB: How much did Title IX help your athletic career?
PSE: Title IX most certainly helped my athletic career. Women's crew didn't exist at Cal prior to 1976, a time when colleges and universities needed to create women's teams to reach some of the measurable compliance thresholds with Title IX. Women's crew was a great way to achieve this because of the numbers needed to field a solid and deep team. So, crew gave many women new to sports an opportunity to compete. My friends and I still think back to the recruiting days - fun times. We learned to train. It was new to us - running the fire trail, learning the dynamics of competition, collaborating with teammates and working as a team. It actually made the entire university experience very enjoyable. I believe I became a better collaborator on team projects and developed a more well-rounded sense of giving to the university. Our victories were covered in the Daily Cal, and it gave us a sense of pride in the university in new ways.
In terms of my national and Olympic team selection and participation, again, I thank our coach and teammates.
I loved training, so I trained a lot. I ran and I was in the weight room extra hours. I was at the stadium extra hours. I loved working out and I loved winning. At the time, the women's gym really didn't have a weight room. We did circuit training in the basement of the gym with equipment that our coach scrounged. We didn't mind being renegade in that sense, but it's great that Title IX mandates required the university and all institutions receiving federal funds to move toward and attain parity in facilities. To compensate at the time, I trained in the men's gym. After graduating, Coach [Steve] Gladstone enabled me to train with the men's team. I was in a boat most mornings with guys who were sort of the third stringers if you will, but it was a blast and kept me cranking on the oar for sure. So, access to the men's weight room when I was a student, building a successful women's team with new equipment (a process in the 1970s and 1980s for sure) and access to the men's boathouse after graduation was key. But more than anything, had it not been for Title IX, the chances of women's rowing at the collegiate national level, being what it was in 1978, today would be quite nil. It takes funding, expansion programs, an institutional mind-set, regulations, benchmarks, etc. to achieve that.
CB: Do you think you still would have been an Olympian without the help of Title IX?
PSE: Title IX has had a huge impact on women's sports in the Olympic Games. The first time women's rowing was an Olympic sport was 1976, eons after it was a men's Olympic sport. Title IX certainly has had an impact on the number of female Olympians and the types of women's sports becoming an Olympic sport. I had long dreamed of becoming an Olympian, but women's rowing and Title IX certainly gave me that needed doorway and the key to unlock my entrance and other women's to the stadium. At Pac-12s this year, the conference honored all Olympic rowers. It was great to be there with Val McClain and Elizabeth Miles, two other Cal women rowers. We go so far back with one another. If you consider teammates who were on world championship teams, like Patty Brink, Cal women's rowing is well represented on the international course. Since our day, many others have made the Olympic team, so I'm thrilled to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with friends and teammates. It's never about one person. Cal has many women rowers and sportswomen to celebrate, including our teammates who were fierce competitors, successful entrepreneurs and amazing scholars. What everyone brings to the table permeates the team and makes each individual and the collective whole "Olympic" in that sense - faster, higher, stronger.
CB: How did you first get introduced to rowing?
PSE: I actually saw a poster in the women's gym. I think I was taking a yoga class at the time. There was also recruiting on campus to build the team, but I was intrigued most by this poster of men rowing and the Golden Gate Bridge in the background. It was breathtaking. Then in the dorms, I sat across from a guy with "Cal Crew" on his sweatshirt. I asked him what it was about and he explained it all, finishing by saying, '"you'd be good at it because you're tall, if you lost about 20 pounds!" Ouch! Nobody had ever been that frank. He was right. My first coach a year later told me the same thing! Between loving working out and discovering this very wonderful niche community in this vast university, I was hooked. We all went out in the huge "barge" that likely our coach had built himself. I give so much credit to Daig O'Connell for his vision, his commitment to women's crew and in an environment that was challenging. He built the boathouse and he built the equipment. We sanded an old boat, our first boat - The Miss Italy - to make it all work. It was fun, but let me tell you, the parity was a process for sure, but we were in the thick of this whole new experience that was riveting, existential, collaborative, competitive and adventuresome. Some of the really early women's rowers have passed away - Bettina Bents, Katie Sherwood, Jana Barto. They were some of the real founders of Cal women's crew, so I'll dedicate some true kisses to heaven to them because they were so elegant in their regard for this sport and for helping recruit others to the team and ensuring that we all had a great team experience. We had potluck dinners at their apartments. The women from that era today are such great donors to the team. The department knows them and perhaps they want some anonymity, but really, hats off to them. I contributed by nurturing a daughter to become a true BEAR!
CB: Did you expect to rise in the sport so quickly to make the U.S. Olympic team in 1980?
PSE: It was a total surprise. As I say, I lived the rowing experience totally and was able to train as an undergraduate and as a graduate student at Cal. The entire trials system was slightly different then, and again, we were just somewhat following the fun. I credit Daig O'Connell for showing the path for sure. In summer of 1978 he asked about eight of us, perhaps two four boats, if we wanted to go to Vancouver and race in a summer regatta. We all said "heck yes." We camped in some cabins somewhere, trained in fours, which we were not used to at all, and gave it a whirl. He said one of us might get asked to camp. I certainly wasn't thinking it was me, but when the national team coach came up to me, I was rather floored. Liz [Miles] was training with us a bit, but I think she went off to an East Coast club team and was selected through that route. In any event, two Cal women emerged from that process at the time. It was great for Cal and rowing! It was a testament to working hard, understanding technique and being able to blend the two.
CB: How frustrating was it to not be able to compete in the 1980 Games because the U.S. backed out?
PSE: The U.S. boycotted. I think it's important to state what it really was - a boycott. That is not what the Olympics espouse. In the Ancient Games, the Greeks called a truce to all combat during the Games. It put a hole in my heart and in the hearts of so many around the world. It was a horrible time. Every Olympian's window of opportunity is so small. The demands of training and focus are so great and weighing whether to pursue the commitment again is tough because it has economic and livelihood ramifications, particularly in a sport where sponsorships and endorsements are next to nil. I went for 1984 and along the way won two silver medals in two world championships, which was great fun along with Liz Miles and Val McClain. 1980 was unforgettable. The women's team gets together every 10 years and there is a 1980 boat that races each year at the Head of the Charles. When you go through such grief with a group, we all certainly have moved on and done well. We have that resilience.
CB: Can you describe the experience of participating in the '84 Games?
PSE: The Games were great; making the team was awesome. I'll be honest, the coach changed so it made for interesting dynamics within the women's team. He was the Washington women's crew head coach and didn't seem too fond of Cal rowers. We had to obliterate everyone in seat races, which we loved to do. It was tense, yet fun, to be in the women's four with three Cal rowers. We were just beaten out by the Aussies, and small world, my daughter rowed for two years here at Cal with the daughter of one of the women in that Aussie boat.
I also know that the Los Angeles Olympics were good for getting the Olympic movement back into a legacy of continuing to grow and champion Olympic ideals, sport, access to education and developing the whole person. There are great legacies from certainly every Olympics, but 1984 is significant.
CB: What's your favorite memory about rowing at Cal?
PSE: Goodness, gracious. The early mornings at Briones - its beautiful full moons, fog and camaraderie. Running the fire trail and way beyond the inner meditation and challenge. Every unique teammate striving and the chemistry. Majors taping formulas on the backs of teammates rowing and studying at the same time. The potlucks, the very beginnings of Cal women's crew and team meetings at Fondue Fred's and Yogurt Park. Our coaches' lectures after practices and before races. Circuit training and running stairs. Getting to be the fastest stair runner was awesome. Learning to dominate. Racing up and down the coast and winning. Racing and winning in Seattle is always extra special. Both my parents taught at Washington, so I love to hate the Huskies. Rivalries are great for sports and so raw and real. I love the fact that the Cal women won Pac-12s all my years and my daughters' years here at Cal. That's an awesome legacy right there. The Vancouver trip which set in motion my national team experiences. My close teammate, housemates and friends. Y'all know who you are. The fact that it's all is so integral to who I am and a part of our family legacy. I met my husband at the men's boathouse through a Cal men's coxswain. That was a memorable day in 1982. Two of our children row - our son, Martin (Syracuse '09) and our daughter, Elise (Cal '12). Go Bears! So a huge favorite memory is seeing my daughter race here, having her be in our family community of rowers and seeing Dave O'Neill create such a legacy that blends right in with my favorite memories of Cal - excellence, grit, fun.
CB: How did it feel when you found out you were going into the Cal Hall of Fame?
PSE: Wow, that was a surprise. I was inducted along with Mary T. Meagher. That was such an honor, a real honor. I was given a plaque with a list of the accomplishments. It's hard to say my accomplishments because they seemed like our accomplishments as a team in rowing. It's a team unless you're in a single. I feel like our era that founding era is in the Hall of Fame.
CB: What advice would you give to all women considering trying out as a walk-on for a collegiate sport?
PSE: Jump in and just do it. It's a must. You'll never be the same. You will find such an intimate community in a huge campus. You will be asked to give of yourself mightily and learn to weave that into the experiences of teammates to make a whole team thrive. Go for it as the lifelong benefits are amazing. Go Bears. Go Title IX. Keep celebrating both forever!
CalBears.com: How much of an influence did your mother's athletic career have on your decision to take up a sport?
Elise Etem: My mother's athletic career had a huge impact on my upbringing, especially in my decision to pursue a sport. From a very young age, my siblings and I were involved in sports. I learned secondhand and have witnessed personally the enormous impact rowing has had in my mother's life. Gatherings with family friends often involved life-long rowing friends, and I immediately knew I wanted to have an experience like that myself.
CB: Originally coming to Cal as a swimmer, what made you decide to switch over to rowing? How did you first get interested in rowing?
EE: I have always been interested in rowing in the sense that I enjoyed watching the sport and appreciated what it brought to my mother's life-friends, memories, success, etc. Swimming, however, was my first athletic passion. I began really swimming competitively at eight years old, and by the time I completed my freshman year at Cal, I was simply burnt out, both physically and emotionally, with the sport.
CB: How much do you think Title IX plays a role in women's sports today?
EE: I know Title IX plays a large role in women's sports today. From a collegiate athletics perspective, Title IX has significantly helped to balance the funding and scholarships awarded to female and male sports, so that they are equal.
CB: Do you feel like you would have had the same success in your career without Title IX?
EE: I think before college, yes, but in college, most likely not. As a collegiate rower especially, I have seen the good and challenges that come from Title IX. Women's rowing is a NCAA-affiliated sport, like college football, but because of this, other big-roster male sports like men's rowing and rugby are not able to enjoy the benefits that come with being NCAA-affiliated. The student-athlete support that others and I have received has enabled our success in the classroom and in our sport.
CB: Where do you see your athletic career going now that you've graduated from Cal? Are you going to try and follow in your mother's footsteps and strive for the Olympics?
EE: I will never say "never," but for now, I am happy with my accomplishments and am done with rowing and competitive sports. I am excited to be able to challenge myself in other arenas. However, the Olympics are every athlete's dream, so there is always a small chance I'll get back in a boat and train again.
CB: What's been your favorite memory rowing at Cal?
EE: It is really hard to narrow down four years of memories to just one favorite, but the conference meet the past two years has been such a fun and gratifying day for me and the team. On a day-to-day basis though, just being able to be around my teammates who are my best friends has been a blast.
CB: What is something that you'd like to see changed in women's sports in general?
EE: I would just like to see female athletes receive the same amount of respect and appreciation for their work as men. I understand that men go faster and are stronger, but women work just as hard, and what we do is just as impressive.
CB: What advice would you give to women considering trying out as a walk-on for a collegiate sport?
EE: Just go for it! Give 100 percent every day, and you will be pleased with the result.
CB: How did you like being a team co-captain and a leader on the team this year?
EE: Being co-captain with Kristina Lofman was a great experience and challenge. I firmly believe that anyone on a team can be a leader, but it was an honor to be elected as co-captain from my teammates. I think Kristina and I did a great job with our leadership roles, addressing the team, individuals, coaches and issues as necessary, and I hope the team was happy with us!
CB: When you first switched from swimming to rowing, did you think you would achieve as much success as you have?
EE: No, but I really did not think too much about long-term success when I made the switch. All I wanted was to be good, and perfect the day-to-day, little things as they came. As much as I love swimming and respect the sport and the athletes, I am very happy I switched over to rowing; it has brought a lot to my life.