In recent weeks, Wesleyan Students for Ending Mass Incarceration (SEMI) has been collaborating with University President Michael Roth ’78 to discuss potential ways to “Ban the Box.”
Representatives from the University administration and organizers from the student group aim to end discrimination against applicants that have been convicted of a crime, who may be discouraged from applying by having to disclose their convictions on their applications.
As The Argus has previously reported, SEMI has been taking action to remove the box from applications to Wesleyan—namely, a sit-in and rally during WesFest that ended with Roth agreeing to meet with the group to talk through ways to move forward. SEMI then met with Roth on Monday, April 23.
During the meeting, Roth presented two options that would be considered alternatives to the current box.
As one option, applicants would be asked if they had been convicted of a felony and told, during the application process, that their conviction record would not be visible to the admissions officers until after an admissions decision had been made. Therefore, the conviction would not factor into the decision through any implicit bias.
The other, which Roth said was based on the New York University (NYU) model, would include a message from the University administration in which they explained that felony convictions would not necessarily work against a student’s chance of admissions and instead aimed to understand if the applicant’s presence on campus might have a bearing on campus safety.
SEMI and Roth also discussed a third potential option, which would more broadly ask applicants to explain any gaps in their transcript and educational history, presumably covering a wide range of reasons and causes.
“I see the point because it doesn’t signal an investment of confidence in the criminal justice system or this criminal system, but it still gets at interruptions for one reason or another—which may have to do with getting expelled or suspended, or just having been sick,” Roth said during the meeting.
In a follow-up email, Roth sent SEMI a version of the NYU model and wrote that the Office of Admission was looking to replace the box with this alternative. Whatever an applicant had indicated about their conviction history will not be visible to admissions officers until an admissions decision has been made.
“I have been following up on our conversation with Admissions, and the idea of just asking about whether someone’s education was ‘interrupted’ ran into several difficulties,” Roth wrote in an email obtained by The Argus. “We don’t think it makes sense to, say, treat gap years and expulsions or convictions in the same way.”
SEMI member Vera Benkoil ’18 responded to Roth’s email with a statement co-written by several members of SEMI.
“After speaking with the rest of the group during our meeting this evening, we have come to the consensus that the alternative you have proposed does not sufficiently address the concerns we have raised and that our campus community has demonstrated are a priority,” the group wrote. “Banning the box does not mean simply rephrasing the already existing questions about criminal and disciplinary history.”
No final decision has yet been made about admissions procedures as conversations continue.
Hannah Reale can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @HannahEReale.