The Silver School of Social Work has removed the “The Box” from its Masters of Social Work application. “The Box” is a question commonly used on job and education applications that asks applicants whether they have been convicted of a felony, misdemeanor or another crime. Silver is the first, and currently only, school at NYU that does not use “The Box.”
In the wake of high-profile deaths of Michael Brown, Freddy Gray and other unarmed people of color, the racial disparities that are present in U.S. justice systems have surfaced to the forefront of national headlines. These disparities persist even after one is technically removed from the system. With a criminal conviction, especially a felony offense, it is difficult for many people to obtain a job, housing and an education. “The Box” is one of the many barriers for those who have been convicted of a crime. Particularly immediately after release a formerly incarcerated individual can feel helpless and hopeless during their reintegration process.
Some may argue that having “The Box” on applications keeps college campuses safer. However, the only known study comparing the rates of on campus crime between schools that have “The Box” and schools that do not found no significant difference. Furthermore, removing “The Box” arguably increases community safety. Roughly 43 percent of all formerly incarcerated individuals return to prison within three years of their release. However, this recidivism rate decreases to less than one percent for those who attain a Master’s degree.
“The Box” does not just dissuade admissions officers, but applicants themselves. A recent study done by the Center for Community Alternatives found that nearly two-thirds of individuals who checked “Yes” to “The Box” never completed the application process, which was 40 percent less likely than those who indicated “No.” Thus, whether the question is taken into account or not, it is likely that applicants will continue being discouraged in their application processes.
By removing “The Box” from college and university applications, schools are not only advocating for safer campuses and communities but also for more diverse classrooms. The absence of the question will help to break down current misconceptions that the general public has about formerly incarcerated people. Without “The Box” on applications, schools will presumably admit more enrollees with criminal backgrounds. These formerly incarcerated students can provide valuable insights to systems that are often only talked about from a second-hand perspective.
NYU Silver has joined in the fight for advocacy of formerly convicted and formerly incarcerated individuals and I urge other schools within NYU to follow suit. It is imperative that all schools within the institution open their doors to everyone who aspires to receive an education regardless of conviction history.
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