By C. Brandon Chapman, College of Education
PULLMAN, Wash. – As a child, Cathryn Claussen was devastated to learn only men played pro basketball and chagrined to sell Tupperware to fund her school sports uniform. Her consequent interest in gender equality and continuing passion for sports resulted in 10 years of service as director of the sport management program at Washington State University.
Now she will represent the program in a new way: as the first person to hold the distinguished professorship of Title IX and gender equity in sport, newly created by the College of Education.
Because she will continue to serve as a university ombudsman, she is stepping away from directing sport management in order to accept the professorship.
“While this was a difficult decision, I am very excited to move into a new career space and be able to devote more time to doing my research on equality issues in sport,” she said.
Professorship will have research focus
Claussen’s initial research will focus on messaging around Title IX and women in sport. She plans to examine the rhetoric used to justify women’s participation in sport, which she said typically has been benefits-based rather than equality-based.
“Benefits-based justifications for opportunities for women were also commonly seen in the 1860s as part of the Congressional debate about whether women should have employment opportunities in the federal government during the Civil War,” she said.
Several years ago, Claussen began researching the discourse on women’s opportunities in federal employment and published an article in the American Journal of Legal History.
“I would like to build on that endeavor by examining and tying together the historical record of the rhetorical content of justifications for granting women opportunities in employment and suffrage with the rhetoric justifying opportunities in education and sport in the context of Title IX,” she said.
The research could include a better understanding of how rhetorical strategy can be of assistance to policymakers, lawyers and other interested parties as they attempt to determine what has worked to persuade and what has not.
Personal history begets motivation
Claussen’s passion for gender equality first arose when she was 9. In her mind, she was a soon-to-be star of the Los Angeles Lakers basketball team. Hours on end, she’d practice sinking imaginary, heroic, last-second shots to win games for the Lakers. The legendary Jerry West was her hero.
The only thing she needed was grow six feet tall. She would hang upside down on the monkey bars every day to ensure that would happen.
Then she told her dad the plan.
“When he responded, rather derisively, with ‘They don’t let girls play,’ it was several seconds before I could breathe,” she said. “I can still feel it – still feel how stunned I was as it dawned on me that there were no women on NBA teams.
“It had simply never occurred to me that I would not be allowed to play if I was good enough,” she said. “I think I stammered out ‘Why not?’ and he replied ‘because they’re not good enough.”
‘Joyful stuff of life’ for all
From that time, Claussen was out to prove that she and other girls were good enough to play at an elite level. But, unlike the boys, she couldn’t merely work on her crossover dribble or jump shot.
She had to sell Tupperware.
“I had to sell it to all of Mom’s church friends to help raise money for one uniform shirt to wear for my high school volleyball, field hockey, basketball and softball teams,” she said. “The boys were not out selling Tupperware. But my determination to overcome obstacles was hardening to steel.”
As Claussen’s life has moved through roles of athlete, coach and sport management professor, she has retained that will to persevere in improving things for female athletes.
“I persevere because those totally ‘in the flow’ times – where everything is perfect and you are in complete mastery of the moment – were the joyful stuff of life itself,” she said. “And, as for girls getting to live as fully as boys, I’ve never heard a satisfactory answer to the question, ‘Why not?’ ”
See an earlier article about Claussen’s service as a WSU ombudsman at https://news.wsu.edu/2011/09/14/new-crew-of-three-staffs-ombudsman%C2%92s-office/#.U-wenONdWSo