NOTE: For ongoing communications please see below for the published PDF correspondences at the end of this petition.
We oppose the idea of adding criminal background questions to the undergraduate admissions process, because:
Research shows criminal background checks do not reduce crime or make university campuses safer; in fact, college campuses are far safer than the general community.
Research demonstrates education is strongly correlated with a decrease in criminal activity and reduced recidivism (46% less likely to re-offend).
Excluding students with a criminal history from participating in postsecondary education not only increases chances of recidivism, but has serious implications for racial equity.
People of color have historically been and continue to be arrested, detained, and charged at significantly higher rates than the rest of the population, due to unjust policies and an inequitable/unfair criminal justice system. This policy would target and further marginalize applicants from socially disadvantaged backgrounds and students of color.
This policy would further increase institutional racism. Institutional racism occurs where an institution adopts a policy, practice, or procedure that, although it appears neutral, has a disproportionately negative impact on members of a racial or ethnic minority group (Randall, 2006).
Huskies for Fairness is a group of University of Washington (UW) students, faculty, staff and community members opposing the idea of adding criminal background questions to the undergraduate admissions process. The proposed policy by UW officials would potentially disqualify students with criminal histories of violent crimes or sex offenses from admission into UW, but the policy could also result in exclusion for ANY past criminal offense. (UPDATE 7/15: The first instance of this policy being implemented can be seen on the UW on-line degree applications. While there hasn't been any publication of the official policy or its proposed procedure of implementation, the questions have been restricted to violent felonies and registry as sex offender. We are still asking for clarification around how a background screening process will exclude any other criminal history reporting). While much discourse surrounding universal background checks for students aims to promote safety on campus,we know the impact of such policies does little to decrease violence on campus. Instead, this policy would further increase the number of obstacles preventing students of color, low-income, formerly incarcerated, immigrant, refugee, and nontraditional students from accessing a college education.
Education should be available to everyone so they may bring their creativity, innovation, talents, experience and authentic selves to the classroom and learning environment. Punitive and oppressive policies disproportionately targeting certain groups of students exclude valuable voices necessary for building a socially just and equitable campus. Huskies for Fairness urges you to support a truly SAFE campus by supporting actions that work toward ending racial disparities in our education system, and allow each of us to thrive and participate in our communities.
The facts about campus safety and recidivism
Proponents of this policy assume inquiry into university applicants’ criminal histories will “weed out” prospective students with criminal backgrounds and ultimately reduce criminal activity on campus; this is an unsupported and unjustified association. Research indicates these procedures do little to prevent campus crime (Center for Community Alternatives: Innovative Solutions for Justice, 2010). The only study that has investigated the direct correlation between criminal history screening of university applicants and incidences of campus crime found no statistically significant correlation (Olszewska, 2007).
On the contrary, research indicates university campuses are remarkably safer places compared to the greater community (Center for Community Alternatives: Innovative Solutions for Justice, 2010). The U.S. Department of Education (2001) reports, “students on the campuses of post-secondary institutions [are] significantly safer than the nation as a whole,” and “college students are 200 times less likely to be the victim of a homicide than their non-student counterparts” (p. 5). The few crimes that do occur are mostly perpetuated by off-campus strangers, most notably instances of rape and sexual assault which show no statistical differences between college students and non-students (Hart 2003; Baum & Klaus 2005). The WA state Department of Corrections conducted the Government Management, Accountability and Performance (GMAP) study , which showed 92% of the 3,570 sex offenders studied between July and December of 2005, committed no offenses after leaving prison for the community. Of the 289 who did re-offend, only eight committed sex offenses (GMAP, 2005).
Research also indicates education is strongly correlated with a decrease in criminal activity and reduced recidivism. As the Wesleyan Center For Prison Education (2011) indicates, “a comprehensive analysis of fourteen different studies, completed by the Institute for Higher Education Policy on behalf of the Department of Justice, revealed that prisoners who merely participated in postsecondary education while in prison were 46% less likely to recidivate than members of the general prison population.”
As criminal activity is shown to decrease with access to education, and safety to remain largely unaffected, requiring background checks for university admission undoubtedly raises concerns about racial equity and opportunities for higher education. Implementing this policy will likely hinder those with minor criminal records from applying to UW, regardless of how long ago a criminal incident occurred or its severity (Halperin & Garcia, 2011). In addition, requiring background checks may ultimately deprive students with a criminal records from admittance into UW. This barrier from participation in postsecondary education not only increases chances of recidivism, but has serious implications for racial equity.
Racial inequities in the criminal justice system
By excluding students with a criminal record from our campus community and learning environment, students of color and students from disadvantaged backgrounds are further subjected to the inherent discrimination imposed on them by the criminal justice system. People of color have historically been and continue to be arrested, detained, and charged at significantly higher rates than the rest of the population. In this striking reality, African Americans make up 15% of the youth population and account for 26% of the youth arrested – but of those arrested, African Americans make up 44% of those detained, 46% of those judicially waived to criminal court, and 58% of youth in prison (Halperin & Garcia, 2011).
The likelihood of incurring a criminal charge when encountering law enforcement is largely a function of race, socioeconomic status, and location, resulting in people of color and members of disadvantaged groups being more likely to have a criminal record. This is not because these individuals are more likely to have committed a crime, but because they are more likely to be targets of unjust policies and victims of an inequitable criminal justice system (Alexander, 2010; Garcia & Halperin, 2011).
Why say NO to this policy? Disproportional disciplinary actions in the classroom and in the criminal justice system sustain racial disparities in education.
The increased racial disproportionalities in UW enrollment we can expect to see as a result of this policy, will further compound an existing lack of racial equity in our education system. Both the education and criminal justice system enact discipline while using a racial lens of prejudice -- by which a student’s racial background significantly alters the severity of the disciplinary action.“The problem [of racism] is deep and pervasive. Suspension rates for black students are three times higher than rates for white students, from elementary to high school. One-fourth of black middle-schoolers have received short-term suspensions every year since 1996” (Nelson & Nguyen, 2013, p.1). While disciplinary recourse surges ahead for students of color, reading levels and high school graduation rates show they are falling behind.
Sign this petition and PLEASE, keep the conversation going.
Although this proposed policy may appear neutral, it would have a disproportionately negative impact on members of racial/ethnic minority groups and would thus contribute to institutional racism. Institutional racism is difficult to eliminate because it is so insidious and hidden from those who do not constantly struggle against oppressive and inequitable policies and practices. “Those of us who are white often don’t realize the unintended privileges we receive. We often get the ‘benefit of the doubt,’ or the trust and confidence of people who do not yet know us, or other benefits that are invisible to us as white folks” (Racial Equity in Seattle 2012-2014 Report, p. 2). Institutional racism occurs where “an institution adopts a policy, practice, or procedure that, although it appears neutral, has a disproportionately negative impact on members of a racial or ethnic minority group” (Randall, 2006).
A multitude of barriers already exist to obstruct students of color on the pathway to educational success. This additional obstacle to attaining higher education must be stopped. We urge you to not only sign this petition, but continue this critical conversation with your peers, friends, classmates, professors, and administrators in the classroom and beyond the university community.
Alexander, M. (2010). The new Jim Crow: Mass incarceration in the age of colorblindness. New York: New Press.
Center for Community Alternatives: Innovative Solutions for Justice. (2010). The use of criminal history records in college admissions:Reconsidered. Retrieved from: http://www.communityalternatives.org/pdf/Reconsidered-criminal-hist-recs-in-college-admissions.pdf
Erisman and Contardo, (March, 2005). Learning to Reduce Recidivism: A 50 state Analysis of Postsecondary Correctional Education Policy. Washington, DC: The Institute for Higher Education Policy. Retrieved from: http://www.wesleyan.edu/cpe/documents/CPEFactSheet2011.pdf
Garcia, G., & Halperin, E., (2011). Criminal Background Checks Upon Acceptance to Medical School: The Wrong Policy at the Wrong Time. Academic Medicine, 86(7) 808 doi:10.1097/ACM.0b013e31821e4176
Gunawan, Imana. (February 7, 2013). UW considers adding criminal background question to undergraduate application. The Daily of the University of Washington/ since 1891.
Nelson, J., & Nguyen, M., (April 4, 2013). Guest: Addressing racial disparity in Seattle school discipline. The Seattle Times. Retrieved from:http://seattletimes.com/html/opinion/2020712915_julienelsonmichaelnguyenopedxml.html
Olszewska, M. J. (2007). Undergraduate admission application as a campus crime mitigation Measure: Disclosure of applicants’ disciplinary background information and its relationship to campus crime. Unpublished Dissertation for the degree of Doctor of Education, East Carolina University.
Race and Social Justice Initiative. (2012). Racial Equity in Seattle 2012-2014 Report. Retrieved from:http://www.seattle.gov/rsji/docs/RacialEquityinSeattleReport2012-14.pdf
Randall, V. R. (2006). THE MISUSE OF THE LSAT: DISCRIMINATION AGAINST BLACKS AND OTHER MINORITIES IN LAW SCHOOL ADMISSIONS. St. John's Law Review, 80, 1.)
Communications Listed below:
7/18/2013 - Provost Cauce response to HFF points of clarity and request to halt implementation. 7.18.13
7/12/2013 - Provost Cauce to HFF 7.12.13
6/17/2013 - Provost Cauce to UW Faculty/Colleagues 6.17.2013
Communications recieved on behalf of petition signers:
7/30/2013 - The UW Daily 7/19/2013 - UW Adds Criminal Background Question to Undergrad Admissions Application
7/22/2013 - KUOW.org/94.9 FM - University of Washington Will Consider Criminal History in Application Process
7/19/2013 - Q13FOX - Good Grades Not Enough? UW to Ask Applicants About Criminal Past
7/19/2013 - The Stranger - UW Removes Criminal History Questions From Student Applications Until 2014
7/18/2013 - The Stranger - UW Applications Will Now Ask Students About Criminal History
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