The staff editorial is the majority opinion of The Murray State News Editorial Board.
Most college applications are out to learn the same things via pesky demographic boxes: check here if you’re a citizen, check here if you’re a race we acknowledge, check here if you’re non-traditional.
And, while you’re at it, check here if you’re a convicted felon, if you don’t mind.
For many applicants, a question addressing criminal history is just another box to skip over, an insignificant “N/A.”
But for many Americans, that check box is the difference between hitting the gas or having to stay stuck in park.
Last week, the State University of New York (SUNY) chose to remove from their applications the question regarding felonies, according to an article in U.S. News. In quoting New York Gov. Mario Cuomo, the article spins this as a new trend, citing other schools (a total of 61) that have also removed this roadblock of a question.
We applaud this decision, as having the question often halts and prevents potential applicants from ever getting through the process and obtaining a college education. Before the question was removed, two out of three SUNY applicants failed to complete or make it through the application process after checking “yes,” according to a report on the issue.
Will Murray State follow the trend, then, and remove the box from our applications?
It’s a trick question – Murray State has never inquired on an application about an applicant’s criminal record, said Fred Dietz and Jennifer Smith from the admissions office. What matters in admission decisions is what is on the application: scores, essays and GPA.
In not prodding an applicant about their past record, a school already communicates to that applicant that they have the right to educational opportunities, regardless of where they come from or what they’ve been through.
To ask a question like that and want to know, up-front, about an applicant’s history could be a form of discrimination, Dietz said.
So, forget trend-setting New York – Murray State has been ahead of the game on inclusion and non-discrimination for a while.
But if we don’t ask applicants about their past, what stops a student like Brock Turner from coming onto campus?
In the case of sex crimes – a class D felony in Kentucky – a person is required to register as a sex offender in their place of residence and report it to their institution through public safety. That’s solely the applicant’s responsibility, though, and the institution can’t randomly request to know if a student might be a sex offender.
For students who feel uneasy knowing Murray State doesn’t look into the criminal past of their applicants, consider this: not all classified felonies are violent in nature at all, and many are quite the opposite.
While getting caught with a joint is a misdemeanor in Kentucky, attempting to stamp it out or get rid of it before facing police could be considered tampering with physical evidence, a felony.
Chances are, a large portion of college students have committed felonies, whether or not they’ve been convicted. If you have forged a signature, removed a flower from a grave or eavesdropped, you’ve committed class C, D, and C felonies, respectively.
Let’s say you’ve never committed any crimes in your life and you’re still unsure about the safety of campus without a legal gatekeeper on the application.
Without succumbing to paranoia, remember that a criminal doesn’t need to enroll to come onto campus. Waterfield Library offers memberships to community members without background checks. Murray State’s beautiful campus attracts all walks of life, none of whom are screened before taking their dogs on walks through the quad.
Oddly enough, now may be a good time to recall the 1939 film “ The Wizard of Oz,” in which Glenda asks Dorothy if she is a good witch or bad witch. Dorothy is appalled, replying, “I’m not a witch at all. Witches are old and ugly.” Glenda laughs because – big moment for dramatic irony here – the sparkling, pink-clad character is a witch, too.
If knowing Murray State doesn’t ask about felonies frightens you, realize we’re probably not facing evil witches engulfed in fire. Some witches are good and some are bad, but we’re all some kind of witch trying to make it through Oz. Think of Murray State as a forerunner, showing everyone the road to the Emerald City in Technicolor.