Statement Regarding NYU's New Policy on Criminal Backgrounds in College Admissions
Today, NYU announced an important change to its admissions policy regarding The Box, a section of the Common App where applicants are asked to disclose past criminal behavior. Pursuant to this new policy, the existing questions will be ignored and NYU will use two new questions that focus on incidents of violent crime. All applicants will undergo an initial “blind reading” and then, if accepted, have their responses to those questions reviewed. In short, this development represents progress, but still ignores several important issues.
This reform doesn’t appreciate studies that reveal those with criminal backgrounds are no more likely to commit criminal acts on campus than those without backgrounds. Instead of treating these individuals like they’re being given a “second chance,” we ought to recognize that they have already served their time or paid their dues. They are entitled to equal and uninhibited access to higher education. But because “violent crime” is a term characterized by the same racial and economic disparity which stains much of our criminal justice system and the mere presence of such questions can discourage applicants with violent backgrounds from applying, this reform is insufficient. The Box should be removed and applicants should be evaluated based on future potential for success, not their past. We cannot afford to continue stigmatizing rehabilitated individuals who are eager to contribute to society.
NYU has the opportunity to be a leader on this issue. The University administration deserves to be commended for their attention to this injustice, but instead of succumbing to complacency, should seize the chance to be a model for other schools.
The Incarceration to Education Coalition has been an exceptional campus leader on this issue. We hope NYU’s administration will work with them to continue improving University policy. You can find IEC's statement here. Please check their website as they continue to share important information and future opportunities.