Under a new University of California hiring policy, prospective university employees will no longer be asked about prior convictions in their initial employment applications. This push to “ban the box” will take effect as early as October, just over a year after UC Berkeley became the first UC campus to institute the policy.
Under previous university policy, candidates for university jobs were asked to disclose prior criminal convictions at the onset of their application process, according to UC Office of the President spokesperson Stephanie Beechem. Now, applicants will only be asked for information about prior convictions during their background and reference check stages.
In May 2016, the UC Berkeley campus instituted a similar policy after the Underground Scholars Initiative, or USI, a campus advocacy group which supports formerly incarcerated students, successfully lobbied the campus to “ban the box.”
With a victorious policy change at UC Berkeley, Paul Monge-Rodriguez — a campus law student and the 2017-18 student regent — said USI had a compelling case to advocate to human resources directors at every university campus, eventually receiving their full support.
Beechem said in an email that USI was “very influential” in the university’s recent decision.
“The new policy removes unnecessary barriers to opportunity and will allow the university to consider a wider talent pool,” Beechem said in an email. “It does not, however, eliminate the background check that UC conducts on all job finalists. If a job applicant has a prior conviction, human resources staff will carefully assess the type of conviction, when it occurred and its relevance to the position.”
Andrew Barlow, a campus sociology lecturer and faculty adviser to USI, described the university’s policy change as a first step to eliminating the “minute mechanisms producing (the) massive phenomenon that (the) United States incarcerates more people than any other country in the entire world.”
Clarence Ford, a campus public policy graduate student and member of USI, said listening to USI’s “unique and powerful” members share their stories while lobbying to university leaders was “inspiring.”
“(I think) that storytelling and testimony coupled with the data and research … hits it out of the park for a lot of people who have these preconceived notions,” Ford said.
Monge-Rodriguez cited the university as one of the largest employers in the state of California, noting that its policies can impact hiring and economic opportunities across the state.
He added that instances where students have affected university-level policies like this are “few and far between.”
“This really came to bear because of the number of UC students themselves who found that they were good enough to study at the UC, but not necessarily good enough to work there,” Monge-Rodriguez said. “For a lot of people, it clouded their strengths and qualifications.”
Erin Greer, the northern vice president of the UAW 2865 — the UC Student Workers Union — said she sees the university’s new “ban the box” policy as the beginning of an important discussion.
Greer added that this is an opportunity for the union to discuss further ways their contract may be an avenue to support equality in the hiring process.
“(The new policy) addresses a very specific discrepancy in the hiring system, which is really important,” Greer stated. “But it doesn’t mean that if you’ve been incarcerated — and now you get the job at the UC — that you’re done facing discrimination. It’s worth thinking about what the next things we want to do after this are.”
Barlow said the university’s policy has “given more people more opportunity … to improve (their) lives.”
“Banning the box is a very important first step. The box acted as a discriminatory filter keeping people who were completely qualified from getting jobs or getting into schools,” Barlow said. “It’s a very important moral victory.”