As anti-sexual violence activists wait in anticipation for how a new education secretary will handle campus sexual assault, supporters of the woman President-elect Donald Trump tapped to head the department promise she’ll tackle the issue with the utmost seriousness.
Billionaire philanthropist Betsy DeVos has come under fire of late for some of her donations to predominantly conservative organizations as well as the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.
FIRE, as the nonpartisan nonprofit is called, defends free speech on college campuses as well as fair procedure in campus judicial proceedings.
As Politico reported, DeVos and her husband have donated a total of $10,000 — two donations of $5,000 — to FIRE, a small amount compared to the couple’s other financial contributions.
Still, as DeVos has remained mum on how she plans to address campus sexual assault and on her stance on Title IX — a federal law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in education — Lisa Maatz, a top policy adviser at the American Association of University Women, told Politico that the donations are a “red flag.”
“In the absence of an actual record,” Maatz said, “I think these kinds of donations take on even greater importance because we have to rely on her contributions to inform us on particular issues.”
However, Meaghan Ybos, founder of the Memphis-based advocacy group People for the Enforcement of Rape Laws, said she was encouraged by the donations.
“It’s a mistake to interpret the defense of individual rights as an attack on women or sexual assault victims,” Ybos told TheBlaze.
She added that she believes “much of the Obama administration’s Title IX activism around sexual assault should be reconsidered.”
The Obama Department of Education has repeatedly put pressure on schools for their handling of campus sexual assault. Hundreds of higher education institutions are under investigation for allegedly mishandling cases of sexual assault.
And under Title IX, sexual violence and harassment are considered to be forms of gender discrimination.
According to RAINN, the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization, 11.2 percent of all college students experience some sort of rape or sexual assault by a physical force, violence or incapacitation. That includes graduate and undergraduate students.
In 2011, the Department of Education, along with Vice President Joe Biden, released a guidance for schools on how to handle sexual assault. This included using a standard called “the preponderance of evidence” — which is a lesser standard than “beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Conservatives and organizations such as FIRE have decried the standard as they say it deprives the accused of due process.
In a statement Monday, FIRE dismissed allegations that donations from the DeVos family or organization are “troubling.”
“This is disappointing. Protecting civil liberties on campus is not, and must not become, a partisan issue,” FIRE said.
DeVos did not respond to a request for comment from TheBlaze. But Ed Patru, spokesman for the Friends of Betsy DeVos coalition, defended her ability to tackle campus sexual assault in the Cabinet role.
“No one will take the issue of sexual assault as seriously as Betsy DeVos, and anyone who suggests otherwise doesn’t know what they’re talking about,” Patru told TheBlaze.
Yet Patru declined to give specific details or insight into DeVos’ plan to tackle the issue or the controversial provisions put in place by the Obama administration.
“It’s a mistake to cherry pick a single issue, from any multi-issue organization, and extrapolate from that a conclusion as to how she may come down on a hypothetical public policy question,” Patru said.
DeVos’ expected confirmation hearing has been delayed until Jan. 17.
In the meantime, some activists have joined a “Dear Betsy” campaign, which encourages survivors to explain through social media why the Title IX provisions are have been important to them.