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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!