SPEAR relaunches campaign against admissions inquiries into criminal history| Mar 26, 2015
Students for Prison Education and Reform has relaunched a campaign to persuade the University and the Common Application to eliminate questions about applicants’ criminal history.
Known as the Admissions Opportunity Campaign, co-president Daniel Teehan ’17 saidthe project aims to eliminate some of the more common obstacles that bar such students from pursuing a college degree. He added that itwas inspired by the national Ban the Box campaign, which calls for removing the box on application forms that applicants must check if they have been previously imprisoned.
The campaignwas first started last year after a winter break trip to New York during which the students met with people doing advocacy work in criminal justice, Teehan said.
“We were looking to craft campaigns to respond to issues that are pressing,” he said. “They encouraged us to pursue the same kind of movement for admissions to universities. We have previously worked on the Opportunity to Compete Act, which is Ban the Box for New Jersey, which just passed recently. We decided that would be a great way to focus on something that Princeton itself is involved in.”
Teehan explained that the work that the Admissions Opportunity Campaigndoes is important especially because many prisoners have financial difficulties. In addition, much of public funding for college or after-college educational programs was reduced in the 1990s, making it even harder for students to seek education.
SPEAR members have met with administrators, including University President Christopher Eisgruber ’83, Dean of Admission Janet Rapelye and Dean of the College Valerie Smith in order to discuss the possibility of altering the University’s admissions policies regarding formerly incarcerated students, Teehan said.
Eisgruber, Rapelye and Smith did not respond to requests for comment.
“Any time you’re launching a campaign as students to change a longstanding policy of a university as large and financially conservative as Princeton, you’re going to run into barriers,” he said. “The default position of the University isn’t ‘Let’s change,’ it’s ‘Let’s stay the same.’ ”
Another difficulty that SPEAR members have encountered in the past includes the initial negative response people tend to have regarding the topic of incarceration, advocacy chair Margaret Wright ’17 said.
“There is oftentimes a visceral response, people who haven’t necessarily spent a fair amount of time researching criminal justice issues don’t know the way our criminal justice system works,” Wright said. “So to us, it’s kind of an immediate thing to say, ‘We shouldn’t be using a system that’s racially discriminatory and unjust and that targets certain communities that are less fortunate economically.’ But a lot of people don’t see the criminal justice system that way.”
While some have associated the Admissions Opportunity Campaignwith affirmative action, Teehan said this is a misconception.
“[The campaign] is saying that we shouldn’t impose this extra barrier on people simply by virtue of their past involvement with the criminal justice system,” Teehan said. “The fact that the University is kind of perpetuating the things the criminal justice system has already done to certain populations seems to us fundamentally unfair. Princeton University shouldn’t be part of the punishment that somebody receives when they’re arrested for whatever reason.”