Students work to ban the box, not the people

By Savannah Lewis

For everyone who applies to college, the application process can be nerve racking. The experience of being judged off of your grade point average or what you were or were not involved in during high school can make someone rethink everything they have ever done in life. For some, however, there is an added worry: A worry that checking one box could end what may feel like their only opportunity to grow from their past and to create a better future. 

This is a fear that Kevin Ballou, member of the Ohio Student Association (OSA) has faced. While he had to check yes on the box — one that tells admissions whether or not you have been convicted of a crime or have charges pending — he was still accepted to Cleveland State University. Now, Ballou advocates for the Ban the Box campaign, which pushes for the box to be removed from the admissions process.

Ballou shared his experiences and why this campaign is meaningful to him.

“I have felonies on my record,” he stated.  “When I was 18, I was living a different lifestyle. I was caught up in the street life, and I went to prison for five years. While I was in prison, I had the opportunity to tap back into my love of education, community and artistry and take some college classes there.” 

When he was able to apply for college, he was worried that he wouldn’t be accepted because of his past.

“My whole plan for the future might not happen because of this question,” he explained.

Ballou used the opportunity of education to advocate for others who may have been in the same scenario he once was in. He, along with other members of the OSA at Cleveland State, have started the campaign here to eliminate the box from admissions. This box can be found on different types of applications — from housing requests to employment applications — but Ballou focuses mainly on the education side.

Last semester, they accomplished a goal of theirs by receiving support from the Student Government Association (SGA) to push their campaign to Cleveland State  President Harlan Sands. 

Ballou stated that if there is a box for this question he would prefer it  to be post admissions.

“The box after admissions could help the university get an understanding of what kind of lifestyle people have lived before their time at a university. That way they can say, ‘How can we help you?’” Ballou explained. 

Ballou believes that education is something that could better not only the people who have rough pasts but also better society as a whole. 

“I don’t sympathize with people who are still committing acts against society,” he said. “But there shouldn’t be a barrier to education for someone who wants it. I don’t want anyone being deterred from being prosperous in their future.” 

This goal for removing the box for education is something he is concerned with for others who want to better themselves. He is hopeful that by removing this box, it may give other people who have been convicted a second chance. 

“I used to talk to people in prison and ask them ‘why don’t you study and get an education?’ They used to tell me all the time ‘I already have these felonies. I’m screwed. Society already labels me like this, they aren’t going to give me a chance. Why even try?’ I want to break that mindset.”