In Support of Michelle Jones


WSN Editorial Board

Last week, NYU made headlines after The New York Times revealed that a first year Ph.D. student was newly released from prison after being sentenced to jail time for murder. In fact, according to the Times piece, the ex-inmate — Michelle Jones — arrived at NYU the day after she was released, following more than two decades in prison. While the presence of someone who was convicted of such a gruesome crime may make some students feel uneasy, Jones served her time and undoubtedly deserves to be at NYU.

NYU, among many colleges, uses the Common Application to review students’ applications. One controversial section of the Common Application asks whether or not the applicant has ever been committed of a crime. This has led to an effort known as the “Ban the Box” movement. In May 2015, in response to backlash, NYU changed its policy regarding applications from previously convicted offenders. For the class of 2019, applicants were first looked at without any knowledge of criminal history. This factor was only taken into account during the final stages of the application process. NYU went one step further for the class of 2021, as now the applicants only have to disclose criminal history if they were convicted of a violent offense. These changes are in keeping with the idea that everyone deserves a quality education and a second chance, no matter their background.

It is easy to define an ex-inmate by his or her previous criminal sentence, and perhaps this is rightfully so. In the case of Michelle Jones, burying one’s own child is by any measure an outrageous offense. Yet, many accounts have ignored Jones’ upbringing. She was pregnant with her son at the age of 14 as a result of rape, and rather than support her, her mother further physically abused her. She eventually developed a psychological disorder attached with all of her unfortunate circumstances and projected that pain onto her own son. Of course, murder is objectively immoral, horrible and inexcusable. But for such a sad case, a 20-year jail sentence is more than enough. Furthermore, while Jones was in prison, she made something of her life, publishing renowned historical plays, research projects and dance compositions.

NYU is known for claiming to be an institution of diversity, equity and inclusion. While sometimes this feels like fancy words thrown around to make NYU look progressive, Jones’ admittance to the university is an excellent example of NYU living up to its promises. Jones was found guilty of a heinous crime, but she served her time and made something out of her life. She deserves to be here just as much as every other student.

A version of this article appeared in the Monday, Sept. 18 print edition. Email the WSN Editorial Board at [email protected].