“Frederick Douglass said, “knowledge is the pathway from slavery to freedom.” From the time that Sophia Auld, a slave master’s wife, disobeyed the law and taught Frederick Douglas to read at the age of twelve, we have known that denying access to education is one of the most effective tools of oppression.  Yet, for some reason, the practice of screening college applicants for criminal records continues to grow despite data suggesting that crime on campus is more likely to be committed by students who have no prior criminal record.  This screening occurs without understanding the complexities of these records and with no thoughtful process through which to evaluate the impact a criminal record may or may not have on a particular students ability to successfully engage in the educational process. These aspiring students become subject to an intrusive and humiliating process of investigation that is often conducted by untrained, misinformed, and subjective reviewers. All applicants learn through this process is that in America the debt imposed by criminal conviction is never marked paid in full and comes with a lifetime of consequences. With so much at stake one cannot help but question who these policies are intended subjugate.  Who is it that we are still trying to keep beyond the reach of knowledge and the power that comes with it? Since racial disparities permeate every aspect of American criminal punishment the use of criminal conviction status to bar admission to college has a disproportionately negative impact on communities of color. The historical legacy of slavery and structural inequality has been embodied in practices that purport to protect the public safety while at their core they serve to add to the existing damage caused by a new divide in America in which criminal record based discrimination has replaced the blatant race-based discrimination that the civil rights movement aimed to dismantle.  NYU’s discriminatory admission practices add to that shameful legacy.”


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