The Incarceration to Education Coalition hosted a teach-in at Bobst Library on Monday to discuss, educate and address any NYU community concerns about higher education and questions concerning criminal or disciplinary histories — known colloquially as the box.
During the teach-in, titled “Unpacking the Box,” participants grabbed questions from the stack of boxes and tried answering questions about the box. NYU has a complicated relationship with the box. As a member of the Common Application, NYU requires applicants to disclose any criminal or disciplinary past of the prospective student. However, graduate programs independent of an obligation to a universal app have abolished the box from their applications, and just last month NYU sent a letter to the Common App calling for more research to see how the box may or may not influence campus safety.
Corey Greene, a person who was formerly incarcerated, graduated from NYU in 2014 and is now pursuing a Ph.D. He participated in the event, hoping to show people that not everyone who is required to check the box may be able to sidestep the complications of it like he was.
“I got involved in this, because I was formerly incarcerated, I had to check the box numerous times before I came to NYU,” Greene said. “I believe the experience of going through prison really taught me a political lesson about who I am, the world that I live in and what I am facing when I came back out.”
But he learned that predicting an optimistic future after his time in prison was naive. He won a dissertation fellowship from Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, but it was revoked when the organization realized he was formerly incarcerated. He believes similar stories to his represent how being put into jail and prison become lifelong sentences when people must check the box.
His experiences directed him to join IEC when it first formed in 2014, and he has with organizers such as Gallatin junior Sumathy Kumar to advocate for the box’s removal.
Kumar helped organize this event, and she assisted people as they tried answering questions about this issue. She thinks that although NYU sent a letter to the Common App, focusing the letter on objective research deviated from IEC’s original demand of directly calling to abolish the box.
“We’ve had some protests and sit-ins throughout, but we feel like the conversation has been steered away from our central message [of removing the box at NYU],” Kumar said. “So this is really a way to reclaim the narrative, really educate the NYU community about what’s going on and the issue of the box.”
Gallatin junior Sudhi Kaushik stopped with his friends to hear about why people should support abolishing the box, and said he learned about intricate injustices surrounding mass incarceration.
“While some people need to be punished, they shouldn’t be objectified just because of their skin color, and I do think that’s a lot of weight into thinking what’s behind the box ideology and what’s on the application,” Kaushik said.
Greene said the consequences of the box in higher education are much greater than one might assume.
“When we deny people access to college, you deny their access to career opportunities, economic opportunities and the opportunity to be able to take care of themselves and their family,” Greene said. “It’s really sad that something like this is okay in the society we live in.”
Email Diamond Naga Siu at [email protected]