While I do not necessarily write about the admissions barriers that formerly incarcerated individuals face, it is a huge challenge for so many who want to gain an education. Many individuals “self-select” or do not even apply because they believe they will have no chance of gaining admission if they answer honestly on their application to the ever-popular question, “Have you been convicted of a felony?”
This question, even with follow-up text entry, is a gross over generalization of the criminal justice system in the United States and the systemic cultural norms that increase the chances of being convicted for already marginalized communities. Formerly incarcerated individuals have already crossed so many barriers before they begin thinking about post-secondary education and this issue presents an even bigger challenge. Answering honestly hurts their chances of being admitted while answering dishonestly creates the risk of being expelled due to academic integrity.
I am thrilled that one of the largest public university systems, the State University of New York (SUNY), has decided to “ban the box” on their applications. This means that SUNY will no longer be asking individuals if they were previously convicted. In 2013, SUNY was the largest public university system in the United States, serving 467,991 students. In the same year, New York was the sixth highest incarcerating state with 81,400 inmates. While not all of those will be released, this opens so many doors for so many people. As a former employee of SUNY, I am elated to see them taking such a progressive approach.
While still celebrating this huge destruction of one of the major walls to post-secondary education, individuals applying for campus housing and for certain majors requiring internships, field work, or licensure will still have to answer this question. However, this is a start.