As the University of Hawaii civil rights counselor, Jill Nunokawa, who appeared on MidWeek’s cover in June 1999, oversees a variety of health, education and safety issues at the school. But she probably is associated most with Title IX — the hated/adored piece of federal legislation that made it illegal to discriminate by gender.
The law, which was passed in 1972 and is now officially known as the Patsy T. Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act, has allowed thousands of women to take part in collegiate sports. But as Nunokawa points out, the athletic side of the law is just a small portion of the whole.
“Title IX was passed to prohibit sex discrimination in educational institutions receiving federal financial funds,” says Nunokawa, a former player and the first Hawaii woman to officiate NCAA Division I women’s basketball. “It’s to ensure equal opportunity, access, benefits and treatment. And I don’t think anyone disagrees that that’s what they want in an educational institution. But a lot of people focus on the athletics component when people ought to be focusing on the academy itself.”
In 2000 Nunokawa helped pass legislation that created a three-year commission on Title IX within the Department of Education — an area she says is in desperate need of help.
“The girls basketball season is a prime example of discrimination in our state,” she says. “We are the only state that plays girls basketball from March to May. Scholarships are all given out by February. Our girls do not have the fair opportunity for college scholarships nor preseason and post-season tournaments.”
Nunokawa’s plan, which she says she’s been pushing for about 13 years, would be to move varsity girls basketball to the winter and the JV boys basketball to the spring. “That way you would play varsity basketball in the proper season that all other states play. You’d let both boys and girls have preseason tournaments and college scholarships. You wouldn’t discriminate based on sex and you would be in compliance with Title IX,” she says.
In case you think that all Nunokawa has done over the past six years is argue about equal access, you’d be mistaken. In the past few years, she’s traveled to South Africa, Geneva, Italy, Thailand, Mexico, Dubai and Istanbul for international conferences. She went on safari in Africa, walked along the coast of the Italian Riviera, hiked up the Mayan ruins in Mexico and visited Angkor Wat in Cambodia. She’s also managed to get two scuba diving certificates to enjoy the undersea areas around South Africa, Mexico, United Arab Emirates and the Cook Islands.
But Nunokawa still seems most moved by those things that caused her to leave the public defender’s office: the chance to get involved. “We all play a role in civil society,” she says. “We are all supposed to be playing a role.”
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