U’s Ban the Box effort symbolic, but may pose different problems

by Daily Editorial Board

Following a nationwide push known as Ban the Box, the University of Minnesota announced it will no longer ask prospective students about their criminal history starting with the class of 2018.

Momentum for Ban the Box increased steadily after President Obama’s vow to promote reintegration efforts for formerly-incarcerated people and reform the criminal justice system. Last year a presidential memorandum forbade federal agencies from asking about felonies on employment applications.

The University’s renunciation of felony disclosure dates back to a March 2015 Student Senate resolution calling the school to remove the felony question. The school revised its language to omit questions about misdemeanors.

The University has recently decided to join Common App — an undergraduate college admission application used by nearly 700 college that includes a question asking students to self-report their criminal background. However, vice provost and dean of undergraduate education, Bob McMaster, told the Minnesota Daily that it will not accept criminal history data from Common App.

The University’s Ban the Box effort is certainly symbolic. It shows the school’s willingness to expand accessibility and diminish anxieties over implicit bias — especially for the more than 70 million Americans who have criminal records.

However, field experiments conducted by researchers at Princeton University and the University of Michigan’s Law School suggest that Ban the Box measures can expand statistical, race-based discrimination. In one simulation, callbacks for black job applicants dropped by 45 percent compared to white applicants after a Ban the Box measure was enacted.

The University’s Ban the Box decision is a pointed attempt to mitigate obstacles associated with students who have criminal histories, especially for black males who are adversely affected by the criminal justice system. But if the school aims to also address racial disparities that don’t fall within the intersection of incarceration — which it unequivocally should — it ought to formulate concrete policies that will provide checks and balances to Ban the Box. This would ensure racial justice is always at the forefront of the application committee’s mind.