Students win ‘Ban the Box’ policy changes

By Jenna Thomas

This fall semester has certainly witnessed countless administrative and procedural changes. One of those changes that has slid by without much attention is an adjustment to the undergraduate admission application. In years past, the application would include this question: Have you ever pled guilty or been convicted of a criminal offense or have charges pending against you?

(Cleveland State admissions application, Source: Jenna Thomas)

Most universities incorporate some sort of criminal record disclosure in their admission process. The admissions process at Cleveland State University also requires students who check this box to submit a written personal statement explaining their criminal history― a statement that is read and considered by a committee of CSU Office of Admissions staff and faculty. 

Around the country, college campuses see “Ban the Box” campaigns to reform this policy that is often deemed exclusionary to people with criminal records. Advocates argue that, in addition to the barriers of employment and housing for formerly incarcerated people, institutions of higher education should do more to give people a second chance.

Last year, the student organization Ohio Student Association (OSA) set out to address their concerns with the application. OSA President and student directly impacted by this policy, Kevin Ballou, addresses the issues OSA saw with how the university previously handled admissions of students with criminal records.

“First of all, the question was way too broad. At the very least, we thought it best to try to disclude misdemeanors. Second, it seemed like no one in the admissions process had direct knowledge and experience with the system of mass incarceration,” Ballou stated. “Lastly, we didn’t want potential students, especially those facing the struggles of post-incarceration, to see this question and feel like they have no chance,” Ballou continued.

In August, those reforms started to come into fruition. Now, the application reads:

“Have you ever pled guilty or been convicted of a criminal offense (excluding offenses that would be classified under Ohio law as Minor Misdemeanors such as most traffic offenses, disorderly conduct, possession of drug paraphernalia, etc.), or have charges pending against you?

Cleveland State University believes students are more than their record. We are dedicated to providing an inclusive pathway to higher education and successful re-entry for the formerly incarcerated. The university will fairly consider all applicants regardless of previous charges or convictions. Responses to this question are kept confidential.”

Furthermore, OSA continues to work with the administration to implement implicit bias training for the committee that reviews the personal statements required for checking the box. Kevin and his team are looking forward to their future campaigns on CSU’s campus.

“We are excited to demonstrate what students can do when we organize and exercise the power that we have. We have the right and the obligation to push for policies that make this campus more inclusive and accessible,” Ballou said.