Ramapo Reacts: Criminal Record Question Dropped on Several College Applications

In New York City, three colleges added and subsequently were asked to drop a potentially problematic question on their school applications. St. John’s University in Queens, Dowling College in Oakdale, Long Island and Five Towns College in Dix Hills, Long Island all asked applicants if they have ever been arrested or convicted of a crime or felony; however, New York State General Eric Schneiderman has since convinced the three schools to remove this question from their applications. The events have caused a discussion about discrimination in higher education.

A survey was given to 30 random students at Ramapo College about their feelings on the subject. The surveyed students were asked if they felt the actions were intended discrimination, unintended discrimination or were completely non-discriminatory in regard to race. Every student surveyed marked that this was discrimination.

The question about arrest history was dropped from all the applications after Schneiderman contacted the schools about removing it from their applications. Schneiderman believes that potential students who have been arrested but were not convicted of a crime, or those who have had their record expunged, should not have their criminal records considered during the application process.

“An arrest or police stop that did not result in a conviction, or a criminal record that was sealed or expunged, should not–indeed must not–be a standard question on a college application,” Schneiderman said in a statement that was reported by the New York Times. “Such a question can serve only to discourage New Yorkers from seeking a higher education."

Although all Ramapo students surveyed agreed that the question was a form of discrimination, the disparity among the answers occured when students were asked if the discrimination was intended or unintended. Of the 30 students surveyed, 19 of them believed the discrimination was unintended.  

Despite the fact that every student surveyed thought it was discrimination, three students agreed with the schools’ decisions to add criminal record inquiries. Two of those three students felt it should be applied to Ramapo’s college application. A strong majority of students rejected the idea of an arrest being considered during the application status, and would not want to see this addition on the Ramapo application, even though at this point it would not apply to them.  

Crime statistics have shown that, although African-Americans and Caucasians use and traffic drugs at roughly the same rate, African-Americans are 10 times more likely to be arrested than whites. Given the racial disparities in regard to criminal arrests, specifically regarding drug abuse, these schools have been scrutinized for what their main critic, the Center for Community Alternatives, has called discrimination.

Ramapo student Bridget Daffy voiced her opinion on the issue. Daffy believes that a student’s history of arrest or conviction should not be a factor in whether they are accepted to a school or not.  For those who had a criminal record because of substance abuse, she suggests colleges and universities provide help instead of condemnation.

“For non-violent drug offenders, maybe they could provide a substance abuse counselor that can check up on the student,” said Daffy.