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Duke's move to 'ban the box' follows trend established by other universities, states

Courtesy of Flickr
Courtesy of Flickr

Effective Nov. 1, Duke is banning the box. 

By "banning the box"—and therefore no longer requiring applicants to disclose their criminal records when initially applying—Duke follows a number of similar policies adopted at other colleges.

The move came after other university systems such as the State University of New York system and the University of California system banned the box for all job applicants in September 2016 and July 2017, respectively. Louisiana and Maryland have also instituted statewide bans disallowing colleges from asking about crimes during the application process, and the Common Application is set to follow suit for next year's college application season.

“Consistent with federal law and recommendations, Duke has been evaluating individual criminal background, on a case by case basis, for some,” wrote Kyle Cavanaugh, vice president of administration at Duke, in an email. 

He claimed that Duke’s new policy to “ban the box” is consistent with that overall direction and has been made in consultation with various members of the Duke community.

The policy does not completely remove criminal records from being considered in the hiring process, said Philip Cook, ITT/Sanford professor of public policy. He explained that the “ban the box reform allows applicants with a [criminal] record to have a better chance of making it to the second round of the review process” where they may otherwise get routinely screened out. 

However, background checks will still be conducted at the offer stage for finalist job applicants at Duke.

The Ban the Box Campaign—started in 2004 by the “All of Us or None" national civil and human rights coalition—has gained popularity over the past few years as a racial equity issue, according to the movement's website

African Americans make up only 21 percent of North Carolina’s population, yet they comprise nearly 45 percent of those under the North Carolina Department of Correction supervision, according to the Southern Coalition for Social Justice.

The city of Durham in 2011 and Durham County in 2012 banned the box for public employment and independent contractors. As of 2014, people with criminal records hired by the city of Durham had increased nearly sevenfold, and those hired by Durham County tripled.

Since Duke is the leading employer in Durham County, Cook noted that this policy is a step in the right direction and would be an impactful move for local Durham residents who have a criminal record.

As of 2018, more than 150 cities and counties and 33 states have adopted Ban the Box legislation, with 11 of the 33 states also removing the box from private employer applications, according to the National Employment Law Project

Although North Carolina has no statewide ban the box policy, several cities and counties including Asheville, Buncombe, Carrboro, Charlotte, Cumberland County, Durham, Durham County, Forsyth, Mecklenburg, Spring Lake, Wake County, Wilmington and Winston-Salem have banned the box for government and public employment applicants.

“Employers are impacted by not only federal, but state and municipal requirements," Cavanaugh wrote. "Several of our peers have been impacted by more local requirements.” 

However, Cook said that despite the compelling argument in favor for banning the box—that improving the legitimate job prospects of former offenders will help reduce crime and recidivism rates—there is also some research suggesting a possibility of the ban backfiring.

“There have been some results that seem to support statistical discrimination, [which is that] race will be used as the basis for making a judgement about criminal record if there is no direct information about the criminal record,” Cook said. 

This would disadvantage minority applicants who do not have a criminal record but are screened out anyway based on the erroneous presumption that they are likely to have a criminal record due to their race. 

This evidence, however, is “shaky at best,” Cook said.

Mona Tong profile
Mona Tong

Mona Tong is a Trinity senior and director of diversity, equity and inclusion analytics for The Chronicle's 117th volume. She was previously news editor for Volume 116.


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