Auburn University in Alabama is one of 17 universities in the South that include broad questions on their admissions applications about any contact with the legal system or the police that applicants might have had, even an arrest with no conviction, says the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, an advocacy group. The universities are the focus of an inquiry by the organization, which says such questions unfairly penalize minorities, who tend to face arrest more frequently and, as a result, could face higher admissions hurdles, the New York Times reports. “The disparities and underrepresentation we see at schools is a concern, and this may indeed be one of the contributing factors,” said the group’s Kristen Clarke citing statistics showing low black enrollment at some of the colleges. At Auburn African Americans make up 7 percent of the student body in a state where blacks total about 25 percent of the population.
The organization is inquiring about practices the 17 institutions that it says have applications containing questions about arrests or other contact with the criminal justice system that stops short of a conviction. The group plans to contact the institutions in the first wave of a national initiative aimed at reducing the impact of even minor criminal histories on college admissions. While the universities it is focusing on are in seven Southern states, the organization said such questions may be asked by colleges nationwide. An Auburn spokesman said answering “yes” to the crime question on the admissions application did not disqualify students. “The admissions office calls the applicant directly to obtain more information,” he said. Clarke said that in some cases, students might be intimidated and elect to opt out of the admissions process rather than answer the question.