As a graduate of Barnard College, I was educated in the tradition of “leaning in”, which operates on the premise that everyone deserves a spot at the table and that all voices matter. And so, after reading Sarah Zarba’s recent Spectator op-ed, “Second chances at Columbia,” in which she advocates for Columbia to end the practice of asking prospective students about their conviction history, I felt inclined to take a stand for second chances, too.
Columbia, like all learning communities, must be a place of inclusion and opportunity; it must be a place in which students have the chance to revisit their pasts and this time, with more knowledge, make healthier, more purposeful choices for themselves and for those whom they love.
Sixty-eight million of us in the U.S.—more than the entire population of France—have a criminal record. This means that if Columbia were to step up and ban the box on its application for prospective students, it would become a much-needed beacon of change, an institution that fully acknowledges the reality and ubiquity of the prison system in our country and that wants to be part of the solution. By banning the box, Columbia would become a place in which students are more than their worst mistakes and where they are given the chance to use their past experiences to become catalysts for change, not just within themselves, but in their communities, both on campus and at home.