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Why are we still using the box?

| Monday, November 9, 2015

Have you ever peed outside? Weird question, we know, but it’s a fairly common “criminal” occurrence. Thankfully for us, Indiana is not one of the 13 states where public urination warrants a sex offense charge.

Once you’re caught, you’re stuck with that stigma for the rest of your life and put on the Megan’s Law database. You probably would have a tough time finding new friends when the neighbors find out you’re a registered sex offender. That is unless you had a chance to get to know your neighbors personally beforehand so they don’t have the chance to stereotype. Seems reasonable, right?

Now, imagine you’re a senior in high school who is applying to college but has to categorize yourself as a criminal on an application because you were issued a citation for drawing graffiti on the wall of your school gym. Like the sex offender stigma, it is really hard not to have people judge your worth as a person quickly as soon as they discover one attribute regarding your past.

Basically, that’s how college applications work these days, especially at the schools that use the Common App like Saint Mary’s and Notre Dame. There’s a box you must check if you have a criminal history. Even those that don’t use the Common App, like Holy Cross, usually require the same overarching question along the lines of “Have you ever committed a criminal offense other than minor traffic violations?”

Today, a question like this, addressing solely felonies, is usually found on job applications, and there is a movement called “Ban the Box” to end this practice. Recently, President Obama has declared by executive order that federal job applications will no longer require people to answer this question. It varies state by state, but many private and public sector employers are also now getting rid of the box on their applications. That’s not to say people can’t know whether they are hiring a murderer, because background checks are easy and accessible.

The banning of the box is simply to prevent the stigma from being a barrier during the first meeting/interview. Studies have shown that waiting to look at the criminal history of an applicant allows the employer to get to know them before prejudices can have an effect, giving the applicant a much better shot at getting hired (“The New Jim Crow”).

We believe Notre Dame, Saint Mary’s and Holy Cross should all address this issue. Because their applications require this question, they should either get rid of it or include a special response section for people who have checked yes to explain their history. Having the boxes on job applications is one thing, but when they are on college applications, that’s another.

There really is no good reasoning behind “the box”; colleges started requiring the question after the Virginia Tech shooting in 2007. According to an article from Vice, colleges felt they had to do something about campus safety (even though the shooter at Virginia Tech had no criminal history) by identifying “threats” before they are actually threats. However, recent research shows that 4 percent of people who commit crimes in college had a criminal history record before college. Furthermore, no research shows colleges that screen for criminal histories are any safer than those that do not (http://www.vice.com/read/why-colleges-should-stop-asking-about-criminal-records-1111).

Education is a chance for young people to overcome their pasts and better prepare themselves for the future. We are not saying to turn a blind eye to criminal pasts; we are merely saying they should have an equal chance, without prejudice, to go to college based on their merit. If applicants truly are dangerous, only after the application should their criminal record come into play. The punishment was their criminal sentence and shouldn’t carry over into one’s chances of getting into college.

Many youth detention centers, like the St. Joseph County Juvenile Justice Center in South Bend, do a great job rehabilitating their inmates and getting them the education they need, even prepping some to go to college. When you think about it, if someone has a criminal record, they likely do not have the merits needed to attend a four-year university. But for those who are qualified, why should they face more obstacles if they are trying to get an education? They are not their “box.”

Drew Martin


Knott Hall

Frankie Wamsley


Duncan Hall

Seamus Ronan



Mercedes de la Rosa


Pangborn Hall

Shannon Montague


Pasquerilla West Hall

“BeND the Box”


The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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