Melissa Isaacson says she knew exactly who Lusia Harris was in 1976, when women’s basketball made its debut in the Olympics. Harris scored the first points of the tournament, and was a major star to a high school basketball player like Isaacson.

Melissa Isaacson is a full-time lecturer at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern. An award-winning sportswriter for more than 30 years, Isaacson worked most recently for ESPN in its international division. During her 19 years at the Chicago Tribune, she was the principal beat writer covering the Michael-Jordan-led Chicago Bulls in the 1990s.
Melissa Isaacson is a full-time lecturer at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern. An award-winning sportswriter for more than 30 years, Isaacson worked most recently for ESPN in its international division. Credit: Submitted

After learning about the short documentary, The Queen of Basketball, Isaacson reached out to the director, Ben Proudfoot, to see if he could guest-lecture one of her classes at Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications. He happily obliged. Isaacson was not surprised to learn the film was nominated for the 2022 Best Documentary Short Academy Award soon after she contacted Proudfoot. 

“When they put it on that New York Times op-doc, it went from a few thousand views to Shaq and Steph Curry becoming involved as producers, discovering it as I did, and saying, “How does no one know about this woman?” Isaacson recalled.

Harris’ story is just one that will be featured in a series of panels during the Title IX 50th Anniversary Conference on Northwestern’s Evanston campus this week. From Thursday to Saturday, participants will cover topics including gender equality in sports, sexual assault on campus and the legacy of the federal civil rights law.

Conference’s beginning

Isaacson, Northwestern professor, author and prolific sports commentator, began producing the conference last year.

The issue is personally important to her, as she came of age as an athlete just years after the 1972 passage of Title IX and spoke to its “grandfather,” the late former U.S. Sen. Birch Bayh, for her book, State: a Team, a Triumph, a Transformation. U.S. Sen Evan Bayh, Birch Bayh’s son who was also a senator, will be speaking with Isaacson on a conference panel, “The Birth of Title IX.”

Girls Play Sports Youth Advisory board members, from left,, Cherie Animashaun, Lara Murphy (board liaison), Dawson Wright, Olivia Ohlson and Maya Wallace. (Photo by Heidi Randhava)

“In many ways. Title IX came from [Birch Bayh’s] kitchen table,” Isaacson said. 

Isaacson believes it’s important to hold the conference during the fall, when students, faculty, and Evanston community members are more likely to be in town and available than they would be in the spring or summer. 

“I mean, I think you’re so lucky, if you live in Evanston, to be in close proximity to such a wonderful university,” Isaacson said. “I really, really hope people in the community will take advantage of it and will enjoy the event.“

The first event, “Holding Court with Mary Carillo and Katrina Adams,” will be held this Thursday evening and features the tennis stars in discussion with Isaacson and Charles Whitaker, dean of Medill School of Journalism.

Carillo was a professional tennis player before her tenure as one of NBC’s leading tennis correspondents. Adams, a Northwestern alumna, has won 20 titles from the Women’s Tennis Association. Carillo and Adams have since become published authors, regaling their audiences with memories as female athletes in the 1970s and ’80s. 

“Mary Carrillo is just magic behind the microphone. She’s one of the great storytellers,” Isaacson said. “And Katrina Adams is a hero, you know, on campus.”

The panel continues Friday with a discussion on the use of Title IX in sexual assault cases on campus. In the fall of 2021, Northwestern suspended recruitment and social events at on-campus fraternity houses for the winter quarter after several sexual assault cases that allegedly took place at the houses were filed.

Similarly to most colleges across the United States, Northwestern has seen increases in student protests over perceptions that the university’s administration is failing to utilize Title IX to protect students by holding their perpetrators accountable.

This will be followed by a screening of Queen of Basketball, featuring Harris’ daughter, Crystal Stewart Washington, and will be moderated by Mary Carillo.

Girls Play Sports Camp (Photo by Mary Collins)

Later Friday evening, Northwestern’s Women’s Volleyball team will face off against Purdue University, an event that is free to all of the conference’s attendees.

Saturday’s programming begins with a panel on women’s coaching in athletics departments and concludes with a retrospective that features female athletes of Northwestern from 1977 to 2018 in discussion with one another.

There will also be a conversation on the status of race and gender equality, focused on NCAA’s Title IX at 50 report, “The State of Women in College Sports.” Mary Wilson, who Isaacson referred to as the foremost authority on Title IX, will participate in the panel. According to Isaacson, Wilson will discuss her belief that over 90% of NCAA schools are not in compliance with Title IX regulations.

Each event is free and open to the public, and Isaacson hopes the Evanston community will attend.

“If you’re a parent, you need to know what your rights are. If your daughter is not being treated equally and being given the same opportunities as boys in any opportunity, educational or otherwise, in a federally funded [program], you need to know what your rights are, and that that is a law, and it needs to be enforced.”

You can learn more about all the events held in celebration of Title IX’s 50th anniversary at Northwestern’s website

Annabelle Daisy Dowd is a California-born Midwestern gal. She a recently completed her Masters at Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism, and believes spring is a season you must earn. If she’s...