New criminal history policy to prioritize safety

Kerr administration building

Noah Nelson, News Contributor

Oregon State University students with felony convictions may now have to pay for their actions a second time with an altered college experience. 

The new university policy 02-015 entitled “Admission and Attendance of Students with Criminal Histories” came into effect on Feb. 14. This policy, administered through the Division of Student Affairs requires new and current OSU students to disclose any information regarding a past felony conviction. According to the OSU website, this policy goes along with the OSU mission statement in that it protects all students while also allowing access to education for students with convictions who are deemed as not dangerous. However, some students with felonies feel that the policy is discriminating against them. 

This policy prioritizes the safety of the OSU community, while also striving to provide opportunities for academic success, according to Steve Clark, the vice president of university relations and marketing. 

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“This policy was proposed to President Ray after months of work by a committee made of faculty, staff and student representation in an effort to provide for increased safety and student success, while seeking to ensure that individuals, who did commit a serious crime and are rehabilitated, have an opportunity to earn a college degree,” Clark said.

Dan Larson, head of the Division of Student Affairs gave his insight on the policy.

“OSU believes that every individual—including those with a criminal history—should have the opportunity to seek a college education,” Larson said.

Some students however, do not agree with these statements.

Blaine Kelai, a fourth-year student,  was convicted on the charges of breaking and entering in 2009, and completed his sentencing in 2012. He stated he wants to keephis conviction in his past so that he can focus on improving himself, and creating a better future. Kelai pointed out a few issues he sees with this new policy.

According to the policy, a student with a conviction may not be able to participate in certain extracurricular activities. 

“Based upon its review, the Committee will recommend to the dean of students whether there are particular activities or areas in which the student will not participate or whether additional risk mitigation measures should be put in place prior to participation in those activities.  The Dean may approve, reject, or modify any recommendations made.” Section 5.1.5 said.

“If I am not allowed to participate in extracurricular activities designed to unify the student body, how could I possibly feel equal?” Kelai said. “I came here to better myself and OSU is preventing that by restricting my access to the tools I need to succeed.”

According to Larson, there may be instances where the students will have no restrictions in participating in extracurricular activities.

“Should restrictions be appropriate given conditions of parole and other circumstances, the dean of student life will provide support and guidance to assist a student while at OSU,” Larson said.

Kelai also claims that because socializing is an important part of all human’s lives, he feels that the university is making the claim that he is less human, because this policy might alienate him socially. According to Kelai, this is counterintuitive as an important part of rehabilitating people in the criminal system is training them how to engage with society in a healthy, law-abiding manner. Kelai has called this policy dehumanizing.

According to Larson, the goal of this policy is to support the academic success of students with felony convictions, while also prioritizing the safety of the OSU community.

Some of the internships and programs that Kelai would like to take part in as an agricultural science major might be off limits, because animals are considered a protected class and he might not be allowed access to animal programs because of his past conviction. In response to this Kelai raised the question, “will my tuition be adjusted accordingly?” because, according to him, “It doesn’t seem fair to pay the same rate as other students but not have access to the same programs.”

The decision of whether or not Kelai, or any student with a past conviction, will have access to certain programs and an education here at OSU, comes down to the “Criminal History Attendance and Participation Committee.” 

This committee will judge students with convictions on many factors, including patterns of behavior, how recently the conviction occurred, severity of the crime, age of the student at the time of the crime, other manners of risk mitigation measures for participation in the requested activity or program, etc, according to section 5.1.4 of the policy.

“Having a committee that has never met me, prying into my personal life and deciding my fate is the wrong way to approach this.” Kelai said.

Kelai claims that he is willing to share his story and his past with people, once they get to know him. 

“I do not mind telling people that I have a record. I only disclose this information face to face and after I feel that the person I am disclosing to has had an opportunity to see that I am not a thug, once to get to know the real-me,” Kelai said.

While this policy was designed to keep the OSU campus safe for all students, Kelai claims that the university has not released any evidence to suggest that this policy will actually increase campus safety.

According to Kelai, he wants to keep his conviction in his past and focus on the future, and this new policy is making that more difficult for him.

“I regret my decisions leading up to my felony convictions every day. I wish I had made better choices when I was younger and immature. I saw college as an opportunity to create distance from my past and help myself become more employable. This new policy is making me regret choosing OSU as an opportunity to better myself,” Kelai said.