Views expressed in opinion columns are the author's own.
Last week, opinion editor Sona Chaudhary wrote a piece arguing against the Maryland Senate's recent decision to "ban the box," which would remove the question on college applications inquiring about an applicant's criminal history.
Chaudhary made several valid points about the question being a useful tool for contextualizing the future behavior of an applicant, which is particularly compelling, considering the recent trend in hate bias incidents at the University of Maryland.
Chaudhary distinguishes that, should an applicant with a criminal history re-offend after being admitted to this university, it would be "important to know where hateful sentiments are coming from," and argues that the question creates a basis for resources and support networks that applicants with criminal histories could benefit from.
I agree with the main points of Chaudhary's argument. However, her piece failed to address the nuances of the relationship between the education and penal systems. Focusing on the benefits of distinguishing applicants with criminal histories ignores the context of the question itself — namely, why does an applicant's past criminal history have a bearing on their ability to attain further education?
There are plenty of reasons why criminal history would matter — particularly if the offenses were violent in nature or had been committed several times. Considering the average age of an undergraduate at this university is 21 as of 2017, prospective undergraduate students are unlikely to have extensive criminal records.
With the sealed nature of juvenile records, young people applying with pre-existing adult records are unlikely to have developed patterns of criminal behavior in the short time of their being adults.
Chaudhary is right that if there is already a sequence of severe criminal behavior, it should be reported upon application for admission to this university — but it's the minority of cases.
Rather than outright "banning the box," there needs to be a nuanced approach to balancing campus safety and an individual's right to an education. Considering that increased education can reduce recidivism rates, we should challenge the validity of the question itself: How far should someone's past follow them into the future — especially when the individual in question is attempting to achieve betterment via education?
In theory, the penal system's end goal is rehabilitation to avoid re-offenses. Shouldn't public universities, as institutions working with the government, support this goal and lower recidivism rates?
The debate shouldn't be whether to include the box; the safety of the community as a whole demands, as a minimum, its inclusion. However, what should be considered is the type of offenses the application asks prospective students to self-report.
Currently, this university asks students to report any criminal offenses except traffic-related ones. Applicants are then given a space for a personal statement to explain the circumstances of the offenses. This box is a blanket regarding the type of offense and its nature — a misdemeanor drug charge or disorderly conduct charge is required to be reported the same way that a felony assault conviction is.
The question of past criminal history shouldn't be removed entirely but should instead be amended to satisfy demands for safety and context. Applicants should be required to report any violent crimes or felonies they were convicted for.
Other types of offenses — particularly victimless crime — ought to be asked for after the student has been granted admission. In the same way that some colleges practice "need-blind" admissions, this university should practice a similar, albeit slightly altered, "box-blind" admissions process. This change would give those with criminal histories fair access to higher education, supporting the rehabilitation process, while still promoting campus safety.
Caitlin McCann is a sophomore communication major. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.