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One Question Down, A Whole System of Educational Injustice to Go

By Jacqueline S. Chea
By The Crimson Editorial Board
This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board.

The Common Application’s most inane question is finally history.

No longer will students have to self-report high-school disciplinary infractions, including suspensions. And though it may seem small, that’s an important step, if only an early one, toward racial justice and equitable access in education.

The decision came after the Common App found that Black applicants reported disciplinary infractions at twice the rate of their peers and counteract the fact that many students with disciplinary records forgo the application process entirely.

The sad reality is that school disciplinary systems often have long-term and disproportionate consequences for those it punishes.

We commend the Common App for removing a question that would both dissuade students from applying to college and exacerbate the racial and socioeconomic disparities so apparent in the college application process. Though this change is a modest one, we hope that it is the beginning of vast changes to an educational system that works against poor and nonwhite students.

Our country’s high schools are over-policed and over-disciplined. These practices disproportionately affect poorer and non-white students. But change can’t just be about encouraging colleges to disregard this information or encouraging students with infractions to apply; it has to start in primary and secondary schools themselves.

There is little, if any, evidence to suggest that disciplinary actions, such as suspensions, work toward improving student behavior or the overall environment in schools. In fact, they often have negative consequences. As such, not only do racial disparities in those disciplinary processes need to be addressed, but the processes themselves need to be rethought and overhauled. School, like our criminal justice system as a whole, must move away from retributive forms of discipline, which tend to make offenders more likely to recommit infractions and are intrinsically cruel, to a rehabilitative system that treats transgressors fairly and empowers them to contribute positively to society.

The Common App’s decision to remove the question about former disciplinary infractions will not change how guidance counselors address infractions, nor will it change the broader issues with the application process. In fact, we are concerned that the shift will only displace the problem more thoroughly onto other actors. Won’t guidance counselors, in their recommendation letters and school reports, still have to report these infractions? How can we be sure individual institutions won’t add their own replacement questions?

At its best, this change lifts one small barrier to entry for students — removes that horrible feeling some students might have when they see a question they feel they cannot answer truthfully, that shames them out of a future they long for so powerfully. But in truth, it may only be a small symbolic gesture — the Common App’s acknowledgement of its complicity.

This is only the beginning of dismantling the problems with the college application process. The Common App’s decision will not change the underlying problem of unequal access to higher education, and it should not be lauded as if it does.

This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.

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