President Lee C. Bollinger and Provost John H. CoatsworthColumbia University202 Low Library535 West 116th Street, Mail Code 4309New York, NY 10027
Dear President Bollinger and Provost Coatsworth,
In June of 2016 twenty-five U.S. colleges and universities—including Columbia University—signed the Fair Chance Higher Education Pledge, one of President Obama’s initiatives aiming to eliminate barriers to a successful reentry, by expanding access to education, for the almost 70 million Americans who have criminal records.
This is an important step in the right direction, because removing or banning the question requesting applicants to disclose if they have been involved in the justice system—The Box—is the ONLY option that gives all applicants a fair chance at an opportunity to redeem themselves and become productive members of society. Despite the fact that Columbia signed the Fair Chance Higher Education Pledge, it has not yet removed “The Box” from its admissions application. This means that Columbia can still use information that is not relevant to whether or not a prospective student should be admitted to Columbia, thus making it possible to continue discriminating against applicants, which can prevent them from changing their lives through education.
Research has demonstrated that encountering this question—The Box—during the application process is an obstacle for millions of Americans who have been involved in the criminal justice system. This can be devastating for people who are trying to change their circumstances by obtaining an education in order to increase their opportunities for employment. Moreover, since people of color and those from under-served communities are disproportionately impacted by mass incarceration, Columbia is limiting access to an excessive number of Blacks, Latinos, first generation and other students from low-income communities.
Access to post-secondary education reduces recidivism, challenges inequality, promotes public safety, and prepares people to lead productive lives. Consequently, the only way we can build a safer and healthier society is by allowing these men and women to achieve success by removing obstacles which would interfere with acquiring an education. The benefits of having a thoughtful, educated community extend beyond the individual. Increasing access to higher education for all, regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation or any one wrong decision or mistake in their past, is necessary to create the vibrant democracy that our nation so direly needs. We urge Columbia University to please join The University of California who has never asked applicants’ to disclose any information related to criminal justice backgrounds and The State University of New York (SUNY), who in September of 2016 voted to remove “The Box” from their admissions applications. Criminal justice history should not be a part of the calculus for Columbia’s enrollment decisions. Ban “The Box”
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