Dear Provost Cauce, Today, Huskies for Fairness, a group of concerned students, faculty, and community members, write

to you in regards to the recently implemented policy of adding criminal background questions to the University of Washington undergraduate applications. This letter comes in response to your recent communication with the petitioners, UW students, and faculty regarding our concerns about the potential consequences of this policy. As we have spent the past month dialoging with our peers, navigating the change.org interface, and building community support for our position on these policies, we would like to stay committed to transparency around our thoughts and discussions of this matter. This being said, however, we feel that based on your initial response to the petition, it was unclear to us that a dialogue was welcomed or desired, as members of Huskies for Fairness were never invited to participate in any debate around this policy. Discussions regarding the consideration of this policy have been largely closed to the general student body, so it has been difficult to examine and discuss the components of this particular policy, as information detailing how it will be implemented has not been published. We only recently discovered that these questions,
1. Have you ever been convicted of a violent felony offense, are such charges pending

against you at this time, or have you been required to register as a sex offender by any legal authority in the U.S. or any other country? 2. If you answered Yes, Please describe the nature of the criminal matter(s). If you wish, you may also explain why this information should not be a cause for concern to the safety of the university community. have in fact been adopted, when we found them on the UW on-line degree application. We have been unable to find the official policy, any listing indicating which student organizations are supporting or sponsoring this policy, any listing of community groups and or student groups/offices that were consulted in this process, nor any details about how it will be implemented anywhere on-line. Today we ask you to halt the implementation of these criminal background questions on the 2014-2015 undergraduate application until the UW administration, students, faculty, and UW community supporters have more time to consider the potentially serious consequences of such a questions, as well as to develop transparent policies and procedures if implementation is ultimately supported. We do want to acknowledge and commend your efforts in responding to the voices of concern expressed by students and parents last winter, after it was discovered that two students with a history of level three sex offenses had matriculated. We realize that as

administrators and faculty the responsibility of imparting an excellent education in a safe and welcoming environment is enormous and often complex. We also understand that the vast need for an inclusive and accessible institution of higher education can never be reached without a commitment to social justice and racial equity. By that we mean, if policies and decisions aren’t made in collaboration with the groups and communities they are most likely to impact, and if practices and procedures aren’t assessed in terms of their potential ability t o create disparities across race and social lines, then we as a collective student body and community are effectively sustaining oppressive systems and structures that harm us all. Huskies for Fairness is concerned that with the implementation of this new policy, the disproportionate policing and hyper-surveillance of low income communities and communities of color off campus will prove to be of further consequence on campus. With that in mind, we do appreciate your diligence in abstaining from questioning applicants about drug-related crimes and misdemeanors, but feel the current questions pertaining to violent felony and sex registry offenses are still subject to the inherent racism that plagues our justice system and body of law enforcement. While we are happy to hear that racial equity has been taken into consideration during the decisions making process, we still believe that the mere inclusion of questions regarding any criminal history will likely dissuade potential applicants from starting the application process. Specifically, we are seeking a response and clarification around the following points:
1. To date we have been unable to find this policy in written form anywhere on-line, so we

have not been able to closely examine it, nor have we seen anything publicly discussed about how it would be implemented. Is the University of Washington planning on publishing the details of this policy and how it will be implemented?
2. The first instance of this newly added criminal history section for undergraduates

applying can currently be seen on the on-line degree program application. This is puzzling, as this cohort of students would have NO impact on the safety of students on any of the University of Washington’s campuses, as they are not (most often) physically on campus. While this may be in an effort to universalize the process to come for all incoming students, it seems unnecessary to bar some students from obtaining an education on-line.
3. How will this policy be enforced in regards to verifying student responses and what is

the financial cost? We have already seen significant tuition hikes and continue to experience rising educational cost. How much of our tuition dollars will be dedicated to

checking applicant responses and excluding some students? If you are using a professional background agency, what are your plans to ensure that only these charges are seen by admission reviewers and not other non-related information? Last year, the University of Washington Registrar’s office reported 5,500 students matriculated from areas outside of the U. S. How would the backgrounds of these students be evaluated or verified, and what is the financial impact of these inquires?
4. You indicate in your responses that the question regarding registry as a sex offender is

“generally level three, which typically are those who have offended multiple times, whose offenses have been especially violent or show no remorse and are considered high risk for re-offending.” While that may be true in some states such as Washington, other states have different thresholds. States like California are much more expansive and could include mild offenses such as public exposure. How is the university planning to address the vast differences across state legislation?
5. You have indicated that answering yes to one of these questions and having a criminal

record in one of these respective areas does not automatically disqualify you, as there is a dialogue box provided for an applicant to explain why this information should not be a cause for concern to the safety of the university community. While we believe adding any criminal questions will likely detour some students from applying that deserve to be a part of the UW academic community, we also feel asking some students to defend their right to be on campus is discriminatory, as again campus safety is not correlated with past criminal convictions. How can we ask some students to defend their goodness or safeness, while other students are not questioned at all? Given the landscape of communities of color, queer & transgender, immigrant, and low income communities being targeted by law enforcement and disproportionately disciplined/incarcerated, it seems reasonable to assume applicants from these communities will be asked to defend their right to engage in higher learning as this policy moves forward, something we already know results in fewer and poorer life chances as adults.
6. In your response to UW Colleagues you stated that you “will be supervising how this

gets carried out personally, just as I was involved in crafting the question(s). And I will be working side by side with students and faculty in doing so. We continue to study best practices on how to best evaluate the information we do received on these questions. Our plan is to make the initial accept/decline/wait-list decision without taking this information into account then having a special group/panel evaluate the applications of those accepted or wait-listed that did reply yes to this questions.” We agree that evaluating the merit of an applicant before checking the response to these criminal

questions is in line with the recent Job Assistance Legislation passed in Seattle, which requires that the inquiry and consideration in to criminal history be made only after the initial screening of applications for qualified applicants. This new legislation prohibits employers from using criminal convictions against applicants as the basis for disqualification unless there is a legitimate business reason, and requires employers to take into consideration factors including length of time since conviction occurred and efforts of rehabilitation, something we feel should extend to this process if this policy continues to be implemented. This UW policy however, is out of step with the actions the larger community is taking in moving toward racial equity, which is evident in the decision to include these criminal questions on the on-line degree applications. There is no direct relationship between students completing courses on-line and campus safety. Your statement also brings in to questions whether there are any “best practices” when evaluating the history and choices of applicants. No one individual or small group can possibly possess the clarity or wisdom needed to evaluate a person’s past decisions as a predictor of their future actions, especially when it jeopardizes one’s access to the invaluable asset of an education. Who among us is qualified or has the expertise to decide for another person the trajectory of their life and opportunities afforded to them by that decision? We have also not seen any discussion in your written responses or online, about how the university plans to evaluate the responses in an accountable and transparent fashion, that has at its foundation, a process to prevent racial prejudice and discrimination from influencing the decisions that define which students and scenarios surrounding the offenses are deemed acceptable vs. unacceptable for matriculation.
7. In your response you indicated that a small group of student government

representatives and the Student Advisory Board of the Office of Minority Affairs and Diversity were solicited for feedback about the policy. While we commend your efforts to get some student feedback, these groups do not likely represent the student population that will be most impacted by this policy, nor do they represent the spectrum of student voices that should be and need to be included.
8. Lastly, we want to make it clear, and hopefully the 3,650+ signatures illustrate this, no

singular faculty member organized this petition or group, because they were victimized or experienced fear or trauma around having to inform students about their classmate who was registered as a sex offender, something you suggested in your letter to UW faculty and staff. This group was entirely started by students, none of whom had any connection to any such event, but were instead collectively outraged at the suggestion of our school and tuition dollars actively making it more difficult for students that already navigate structural and institutional racism to obtain an education.

We welcome your comments or responses and will post this communication on our change.org petition site. We also welcome an opportunity to meet with you and other UW staff around this policy. No one is under the impression that a deliberate effort was made to target particular students or communities, however we do believe that it should be reexamined and assessed for its potential impact on students of color and other marginalized populations. Thank you, Huskies for Fairness

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