SAN DIEGO – A class action lawsuit filed by 17 current or former San Diego State University student-athletes against the university for violating Title IX sits on a federal judge’s desk as he considers a motion to dismiss.
Two of the women involved in the lawsuit believe they have a strong case, saying they just want future female athletes to have equal treatment across the board.
“Now that I am involved, I see an even greater purpose,” said Olivia Petrine, a third-year student at SDSU. “This case is the first of its kind and I hope that other schools around the country can notice this and can be inspired to look into their title IX issues at their schools too.”
Petrine enrolled at SDSU in 2020 to serve as a coxswain for the women’s rowing team. Three months later, SDSU cut the women’s rowing program.
“The reason why is they claim there are too many women athletes at SDSU,” Petrine said. “Which is really hard to hear, especially with title IX because title IX helps provide equal opportunity.”
Title IX came into law 50 years ago and requires any organization that receives federal funding to provide equal opportunities for women and men.
17 women joined a class action lawsuit claiming SDSU does not comply.
The lawsuit claims in the two academic years from 2019 to 2021, SDSU’s female student-athletes received $1.2 million less in athletic financial aid, even though females made up more than 57 percent of all athletes at SDSU at that time.
“Female athletes don’t receive the same kind of treatment as male athletes,” said Kaitlin Heri, an SDSU student who won the Mountain West Conference title in the pole vault last spring. She says when she heard about the lawsuit, she didn’t hesitate to jump in, even though she says her head coach said it would be a distraction to the team – which prompted a retaliation allegation to be added to the lawsuit.
“A lot of people ask me, ‘why are you doing this” Heri said. “If we don’t do this, if nobody does anything, then nothing is going to change.”
SDSU issued a statement that read, in part: “SDSU’s funding level for women’s scholarships, and its female athletic participation, is among the highest for Mountain West schools and in California and the NCAA. SDSU awards almost all possible scholarships permitted under NCAA rules for both its men’s and women’s teams… SDSU is proud of its record of promoting female athletic opportunities.”
Heri and Petrine don’t agree with SDSU, but they do agree on what they want to see happen.
“I think part of it should be the monetary value,” Petrine said. “But I think additionally, it needs to be a change because you can give us the 1.2 million dollars and agree that this is what you get, but you need to make that change every year going forward that you’re going to treat everybody equally. That even goes with everything that is easy to do, like publicity.”
“All we want is equality,” Heri said. “I don’t think that’s too much to ask for, considering it’s the law.”