Young people of color across Pennsylvania are over-criminalized at staggering rates. The consequences for any contact with the juvenile or criminal systems can be severe and long-lasting, while the circumstances that lead to arrest are often minor and may once have been thought of as normal adolescent behavior. The movement to “Ban the Box” on employment applications and to push for fair hiring laws has gained steam, but not as much attention is being paid to the prevalent practice of colleges asking about juvenile and criminal records on applications. In the Philadelphia area, many colleges and universities including Penn, Drexel, Temple, and Villanova either use the common application or their own applications which ask about prior criminal records.
Research has shown that asking about records on college applications is not related to increasing safety on campus, but it does prevent people with records from completing applications and enrolling in school. Because of the disparate impact this has on people of color, it is particularly important for colleges to end this harmful practice that may violate civil rights law. Doing so will encourage more young people to access higher education, and will send an important message about the value of racial equity and diversity on campus.