Letter to the Editor: Tulane must completely ‘ban the box’


Dear Editor,

In response to the Undergraduate Student Government’s resolution to “clearly indicate the disregard of past felony convictions on the Tulane undergraduate application,” we, members of the Tulane organization Newcomb Prison Project, are writing to make clear our commitment to the full removal of “the box” from Tulane’s application.

“The box” refers to the question on Tulane’s undergraduate application regarding past involvement in the criminal legal system: “Have you ever been adjudicated guilty or convicted of a misdemeanor or felony?” Since the 2003 national launch of the Ban the Box campaign, employers and institutions of higher education across the country have removed the box from their applications.

Under President Obama, the U.S. Department of Education issued a recommendation to institutions of higher education to remove the box, and in June 2017 Louisiana signed a Ban the Box bill into law, prohibiting public colleges from inquiring about criminal history. Ever since then, the Newcomb Prison Project has been pushing Tulane to follow suit.

In fall of 2017, a Ban the Box bill was introduced to USG but was tabled indefinitely. The bill, resembling the Louisiana legislature’s, proposed to rid Tulane’s application of the box, only requiring individuals to check it if they had committed sexual assault, battery, and stalking. At the most recent USG session, a new, much less comprehensive version of Ban the Box was passed that adds a disclaimer to the application stating that Tulane admissions will not discriminate based on an applicant’s criminal history, but it fails to remove the question entirely. While we appreciate the message of this resolution, it is only a meager step in the right direction.

Until the box is completely removed, Tulane will continue to do a disservice to the formerly incarcerated, to the New Orleans community and to itself. To the formerly incarcerated, the box is so onerous that two-thirds of those with a criminal background who begin an application abandon it upon reaching the box. The new legislation that USG passes will not lead to a decrease in this number because individuals will know that obviously, because the box is still on the application, it is being taken into account in some way.

By discouraging formerly incarcerated people from applying, Tulane misses out on an opportunity to greatly benefit the New Orleans community that it claims to cherish. Louisiana is the prison capital of the world, with the highest rate of incarceration anywhere. Mass incarceration has devastating effects on communities, especially communities of color. Luckily, Tulane can help, as higher education has been shown to reduce recidivism in the criminal legal system by up to 40 percent. Opening up Tulane’s doors to qualified individuals with criminal histories opens the doors up to the New Orleans community at large.

The box is supposedly in place for the sake of student safety, yet it has been shown that neither pre-admissions screening (“the box”) nor criminal background checks accurately predicts a student’s likelihood to commit crimes on campus.

Finally, the box hurts Tulane. The applicant pool that the box keeps out is one of diverse background and talent. Retaining the box also strains Tulane’s relationships with progressive organizations in New Orleans like VOTE, a grassroots organization founded and run by formerly incarcerated people which has ceased to accept interns from Tulane in light of Tulane’s refusal to ban the box.

USG’s resolution was a beginning, but Newcomb Prison Project will continue to fight to ban the box entirely. Many Tulane students like to pride themselves on being open-minded and progressive individuals, and many imagine that Tulane is one of the most progressive schools in the South. The blockage of this bill has proved that the notion is a farce, exposing the extent to which Tulane students are out of touch with the state and unwilling to take meaningful steps to make its campus more inclusive for students impacted by the criminal legal system. Tulane needs to catch up to what the rest of the state of Louisiana has implemented, striving not to just exist in, but be a part of New Orleans.

Furthermore, we denounce the use of dehumanizing language used in a recently published Hullabaloo article to discuss Bruce Reilly, a well respected and accomplished Tulane alumni and community leader.

— The Newcomb Prison Project

Newcomb Prison Project meets weekly on at 7 p.m. on Mondays in Newcomb 004. They can be reached at [email protected]

To submit a letter to the editor, email it to [email protected]

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