OSA Cleveland State Picks up Wins to Make CSU More Accessible to Folks with Criminal Records

When we convened for the fall semester in 2019, OSA leaders Kevin Ballou, Donnell Walker and Jenna Thomas began building our campus chapter of OSA―a team that now includes 15 core team members and many supporters. Our goal was, and continues to be, to make Cleveland State more accessible to people with criminal records. Throughout the past year, Cleveland State’s OSA chapter set themselves to the task of organizing a powerful Ban the Box campaign. For context, “Ban the Box” campaigns on campuses across the country advocate for the removal of criminal record disclosures from admissions applications―and that’s what the CSU OSA chapter set out to do.

Through our campaign, we were able to engage the student body, alumni, staff, and the administration around this important issue. We built a team, strategized, launched a petition, canvassed and tabled to collect signatures and connect with other students, collected letters of support, and were able to come to the table with Cleveland State administration to negotiate. The negotiation process ultimately yielded some huge wins for our campaign that will make the university more welcoming and accessible to folks with criminal records. Here are some of the changes we will see at CSU in the 2020-2021 school year:

  1. The criminal record disclosure now excludes all misdemeanors. This saves many CSU applicants from needing to check the box and submit the required personal statement.
  2. Following the question on the application, we asked the administration to include a disclaimer that reads:
“Cleveland State University believes students are more than their record. We are dedicated to providing an inclusive pathway to higher education and successful re-entry for the formerly incarcerated. The university will fairly consider all applicants regardless of previous charges or convictions. Responses to this question are kept confidential.”

This disclaimer serves two purposes. Firstly, we wanted to address the number of students who stop filling out their application because it inquires about criminal records. Some applicants feel they will be wrongly denied because of their record, so they don’t bother applying. Secondly, many students who submit their criminal record worry that they would be watched, surveilled, and scrutinized by professors and advisors due to the stigma. We wanted it to be made clear to applicants that the disclosure and the personal statement were only read by a review committee, and kept confidential.

  1. We also advocated for the review committee that reads these personal statements to undergo a training that addresses implicit biases and educates on the relationship between mass incarceration and access to higher education. We hope this will ensure the committee reviews these personal statements in a more informed way.
  2. Lastly, we will continue to work with the CSU marketing team to make sure the greater community understands their commitment to serving students with records, and encouraging those with records to apply should they want to seek higher education.

We are proud of the changes we’ve won, but we aren’t stopping here – expect to see more organizing from the Cleveland State OSA chapter this coming semester!

Let them Go! Virtual Show

The Coalition to Stop the Inhumanity at the Cuyahoga County Jail led by member organization OSA held the “Let them Go!” fundraiser on Friday, May 22nd at 7 pm featuring a variety of talented local musicians including Kyle Kidd & Pete Saudek, Mikey Silas, and Teezy From The Clair as well as speakers David Okpara and Azzurra Crispino, both of whom have been personally impacted by the injustice system. 

The two-and-a-half-hour Facebook live event, attended by over 100 people, helped raise over $2,000, with 15% of proceeds going to the musicians themselves. In collaboration with the Cleveland Chapter of The Bail Project, the rest of the money raised was used to help people in re-entry from jail as well as the currently incarcerated, both of whom have been disproportionately affected by the coronavirus. 

The health pandemic has been an opportunity to push ourselves to use new and less familiar outlets of organizing. Even while staying home and social distancing, members of OSA continue valuable work fighting for the marginalized. 


“Invest in Ed, Divest from Prisons” Report 

Introducing . . . 

The “Invest in Ed, Divest from Prisons” Report  (click here)

and The Ed4All Convening (October 19th – 20th 2019) 


“Invest in Ed, Divest from Prisons: How shrinking incarceration can save higher education”  is not just a list of statistics showing how our education system and our prison system leave black, brown, and poor students behind; it’s a document with stories from people seeing the system break day by day; it’s also our first step toward a concrete vision of how we can transform Ohio’s public institutions. In it you will find specific ways we can move funds into higher education away from mass incarceration.

Higher education is out of reach for many, yet remains the best corridor for upward mobility in the US. Money that should go toward funding students struggling to get ahead is invested in prisons and jails, even though it costs far less to educate an Ohioan than it does to incarcerate one. So, why are Ohioans being locked up more frequently than they are completing advanced degrees? OSA demands this pattern change.

Read our report to see concrete ways that the state can re-align its priorities! 

But we’re not just talking about change. We’re launching a movement to make change. We invite you to join us at The Ed4All Convening (10/19 – 10/20), where we will bring together people who have seen the broken parts of the higher education system and craft a 2020 Ed4All Plan. We will take this bold vision into 2020 through political advocacy, voter education, campus organizing, and cultural interventions. And we want you to be part of shaping it. To register, please visit: http://bit.ly/Ed4AllConvening.

We will bring together students, professors, alumni, and community members to design a policy plan to open up higher education for ALL Ohioans. 

Moving away from the cash money bail system, reducing incarceration practices that waste state dollars, expanding financial aid, rolling back debilitating student debt practices . . .  these steps can give Ohioans — whether white, black, or brown — equal access to stability and a sense of safety within their community.


Read the report.

Share the information.

Get involved.

Get Lit For Liberation


On March 13th, over 200 people attended the second Get Lit for Liberation and raised nearly $2,000 in support of the Cuyahoga County Bail Fund.

It was a unique meld of arts and activism: bands, visual artists, and vendors donated their time to throw an event to remember inside the distinctive industrial space of Ingenuity Cleveland. Performances from local bands Apostle Jones, B0xed Wine M0m, Key to the Mint, Meg & the Magnetosphere, and Robin Blake and the Sound Experiment w/ Alexander Wright & the Collective filled the night with a blend of different genres and sounds.

These incredible performers gave a platform for activists to speak on the issues, with representatives from ACLU, New Voices for Reproductive Justice, and people with experience in the County Jail engaging the crowd in ways to get involved in this movement.


This event also acted as a means of raising funds for the Cuyahoga County Bail Fund, operated by New Voices and Black Lives Matter Cleveland. In conjunction with the nation-wide Black Mamas Bailout, these organizations address the clear disparities in mass incarceration and is actively supporting Black caretakers who have been unjustly swallowed into this machine. Community events like this one build power and energy so that we can continue this fight see true bail reform in Cuyahoga County.