We’ve written in the past about the controversy surrounding questions pertaining to a student’s criminal record that appear on the Common Application. Many folks believe these questions should be removed, that they unfairly disadvantage college applicants who may have committed a crime in their past but have since sought redemption. Other folks believe that students who have no criminal record should have an advantage over those who have committed crimes. We’re not sure where we stand on this particular issue — likely somewhere in between — but a group of students at Columbia University has made their position clear.
Leyla Martinez, a Columbia University undergraduate majoring in civil rights who served time in prison between 2002-2004, has authored a petition that has since been signed by over 350 members of Columbia’s community calling for the banning of ‘the box.’ As reports Toni Airaksinen for “USA Today College,” “Someday, all schools will stop asking people about their criminal records and discriminating against them because of it, Martinez hopes. ‘Nobody should have their past hold them back,’ she says. Martinez’s efforts to ‘ban the box’ on college applications has its genesis in a more well-known movement: the campaign to remove the box on employment applications.”
We do believe in the power of redemption. It sounds like Leyla Martinez has a powerful story, one that would contribute to the rich diversity of an institution like Columbia. But Leyla Martinez may also be the exception to the rule rather than the rule. People who have in their pasts committed crimes are more likely than are people who have never committed crimes to commit crimes again. Do institutions like Columbia really wish to run this risk by not even asking if students have been convicted of a misdemeanor or felony in the past?
The piece on the criminal box on the Common Application by Airaksinen for “USA Today College” goes on, “Columbia University’s press office confirmed that all three undergraduate schools at Columbia University ask prospective students if they have some form of a criminal record — a misdemeanor or a felony. However, they stressed that if a prospective student does indeed have a criminal record, that wouldn’t be the deciding factor behind whether they are accepted. ‘Columbia University undergraduate admissions offices consider a variety of factors, including a student’s academic record, extracurricular interests, intellectual achievements and personal background when evaluating applicants for admissions,’ a university statement said. ‘A single factor, such as conviction history, would never be the sole determinant in whether or not a student was admitted to Columbia.'”
But do our readers really believe this PR spin? It’s nonsense. Think about it. A single factor — say murdering someone — would never be the sole determinant in whether or not a student gets into Columbia University? So, by this standard, if a student has a 4.0 GPA and a 36 ACT score, murdered someone in their youth, boasts incredible extracurriculars, and will be the first in their families to attend college, Columbia is going to not determine the student’s admission based on the murder? Columbia University is not going to be worried about having someone who has committed a murder on its campus? Uh huh.
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