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Letter: Clarifying admission policy on criminal history

To the Editor:

I write in response to the “Ban the Box” column of March 7, and to make clear the University’s policies on this important matter.

Brown University does not consider information related to a prospective undergraduate student’s criminal history during its initial round of admission application reviews. While the information on misdemeanor or felony convictions is collected via the Common Application, it is not available to admission officers at Brown during the initial review process. Only upon selecting a pool of admitted candidates does our admission staff learn whether an applicant has reported a criminal history. Applicants are provided an opportunity to explain the circumstances of any incident at a point in the admission process that follows the initial admission decision. The admission office can then assess those details carefully against any concerns over alignment with the University’s values.   

This policy was adopted following a period of discussion and constructive engagement with students in fall 2016 and was implemented beginning with students admitted for fall 2018. It aligns the University’s undergraduate admission policy on criminal history with the Graduate School’s policy and with applications for employment at Brown. In each case, prior misdemeanor or felony convictions are considered only after an initial decision to admit a student or hire an applicant.

Our revised policy reflects the University’s commitment to cultivate a more diverse and inclusive campus by confronting practices that may perpetuate structural biases or create obstacles for potential students. The decision was informed by a depth of research and by a May 2016 letter from former U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr., who urged colleges and universities to reconsider admission and employment policies and to take steps to remove unnecessary barriers for individuals with prior histories in the criminal justice system.

Our policies do precisely as the writer urges —“keep students safe without perpetuating racial injustice in college admission” — and resulted from a partnership between students and administrators. Today, a misdemeanor or felony conviction informs, but does not determine, a final decision on admission to Brown. Applicants are evaluated based on their academic profile, extracurricular pursuits and potential fit with Brown, and evidence of any criminal history will only be known following an initial decision to admit a student. This ensures a fair and holistic assessment.

Logan Powell

Dean of Admission


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