Students press their campaign to end admission query on criminal history

President Eisgruber ’83 addresses a May teach-in by “ban the box” advocates.
President Eisgruber ’83 addresses a May teach-in by “ban the box” advocates.
Kevin Cheng ’17

Students took their campaign to President Eisgruber ’83 to end the University’s use of a question asking admission applicants’ criminal history and disciplinary actions.

The Common Application asks applicants about disciplinary penalties during high school or if they have been found guilty of a crime. Students have called on colleges to “abolish the box,” saying that asking the question is “discriminatory and oppressive” because the justice system does not treat all people equally.

Members of the group Students for Prison Education and Reform (SPEAR) presented Eisgruber with a petition containing more than 1,000 signatures May 7. The president spoke at a teach-in later that day sponsored by the group outside East Pyne Hall.

Eisgruber said the University had changed its hiring policies for staff positions last year. Previously, a question about the applicant’s criminal record was one of the first things asked. Now, candidates are not asked the question until the end of the hiring process. Eisgruber said he would be “interested in seeing whether such a policy could be used in the undergraduate applications process as well.” Students applying to the Graduate School are not asked about their criminal history as part of the application process.

In the current undergraduate admission process, a “checked box” on the criminal-history question is not an automatic disqualifier, said Dean of Admission Janet Rapelye. “We do a holistic review of each file, and there might be circumstances we take into consideration that would lead us to admit a student,” she said.

Joel Simwinga ’15, a member of SPEAR, said the group plans to continue to work both on campus and on a national level to abolish the box from all college applications.