By Irene Rotondo
Springfield College has announced that Billie Jean King, a champion for equity and women’s sports, will be the 2022 Undergraduate Commencement speaker at the graduation ceremony this May.
In a Zoom forum with the Springfield College community on Wednesday President Cooper said, “Title IX means access, and there is nothing more fundamental than access to education. The road to getting Title IX passed, though, was arduous: a committed group of advocates lobbied tirelessly for the legislation, including our very own Dr. Mimi Murray, and paved the way to June 23, 1972, the day Title IX was passed into law.
“Our 2022 Commencement speaker is one of those advocates. An icon whose career in sport and activism is truly legendary.”
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the creation of Title IX. The College said it was looking for a candidate who speaks to its Humanics philosophy, keeping in consideration the demands for a diverse social justice warrior.
“There is a committee formed, and actually goes through the Provost’s office and Billie Jean King’s name has been on that list for years,” Cooper told The Student in an interview following the announcement.
“We looked at the list this year, understanding that we’re celebrating 50 years of Title IX, and knew that she would be the perfect candidate. Fortunately for us, Bridget Belgiovine — who is one of our trustees and a graduate of Springfield College, now retired — had the chance to have dinner with Billie Jean King. Over dinner, she talked a little about Springfield College: what our mission is, who we are, and Billie Jean King said, ‘Yes.”’
King is a former tennis superstar who has continuously fought for women’s equality in sports since her own career began in the 1960s.
In 1972, King testified before Congress on behalf of Title IX, which prohibits sex discrimination in all federally funded school programs — including sports.
“From my perspective, when we look at this year, and not only thinking about Title IX, but also equity and our LGBTQIA+ population, in general it’s about access,” said President Cooper.
“And I can’t think of a better person who has advocated for access than Billie Jean King… I think she will do a fantastic job, and her message is as relevant today as it was 50 years ago when Title IX started.”
Title IX has had a lasting impact on women’s sports. Since its passage, female participation in sports has grown by 1,057% in high schools and 614% in colleges across the country, according to King’s personal site: billiejeanking.com.
King’s backing of the law emphasized its importance, fueling other women to compete and coach as a career. In efforts to protect the sports provisions of Title IX, she also created the Women’s Sports Foundation. The organization hosts programs such as Sports 4 Life, the Travel & Training Fund, and GoGirlGo! to support girls beginning to play sports through financial assistance, diversity advocacy, and promoting physical health and development.
As stated on billiejeanking.com, “Title IX is still the only law that grants women any kind of equality in America.”
The College is thrilled to welcome women’s rights pioneer Billie Jean King to Springfield for Undergraduate Commencement, scheduled to take place at the MassMutual Center in downtown Springfield on May 15, 2022.