Student response varies after Geneseo modifies felony disclosure process

Geneseo is planning to move the question asking students whether they have had a felony conviction to applications for housing, study abroad and other areas. Students previously had to indicate whether they were convicted of a felony when applying for admission, before SUNY mandated the removal of the question. (Keith Allison/Creative Commons)

SUNY admissions will no longer ask applicants whether they have been convicted of a felony, beginning for the 2018 acceptance process. 

In place of this, President Denise Battles charged a committee on Oct. 18 to decide under which circumstances students should have to disclose their felony status. 

The calls for banning the felony diclosure altogether have shifted toward a policy where this question will be asked on other types of applications, according to Dean of Students and Director of the Center for Community Leonard Sancilio.

“The guidance we’ve gotten is at least minimally three to four different areas where we would ask the question,” Sancilio said. “Housing is one, internships is one, study abroad is one, but it could be for student teaching, it could be for a number of things where the question would have to be asked.”

The committee will partly involve deciding what applications should include the question about past criminal records, based on recommendations from SUNY, according to Sancilio. Once those areas are decided, the committee will mainly focus on whether a student’s disclosure of a felony will prevent them from receiving the services for which they applied. The committee existed in that same capacity before SUNY resolved to remove the question from admission applications, according to Sancilio. 

Many believe disclosing felonies was deterring convicted felons from applying to the SUNY schools, Sancilio said. Removing the question may thus lead to a minor increase in applicants, according to Sancilio. 

“The thinking is that if you don’t ask it, it will encourage more people to apply,” he said. “I don’t know if that’s accurate or not, but that’s the thinking that went into it.”

Beyond the impact of removing the felony disclosure box, student opinion is mixed. History adolescent education major freshman Simon Goslin supports the inclusion of the felony question on applications. 

“In my opinion, that’s a fair question to ask,” Goslin said. “It might not be directly the students’ privilege to know if their fellow classmates have a criminal record but the college should definitely be involved in some way; that’s knowledge they should be privy to.”

Biology major senior Laura D’Amico similarly believes that there are legitimate security concerns with regard to residence halls, deeming the felony question necessary.

“You don’t want to be physically abused, you don’t want to be victimized, you don’t want your things stolen,” D’Amico said. “For housing, I think I support that, because obviously they’ve already been accepted to Geneseo, so the school is not discriminating against them.”

International relations major freshman Kazon Robinson alternatively said that the college should be wary of restricting students on the basis of a felony conviction. Some felony convictions that students would need to disclose could be from drug possession or not paying bail, which Robinson argues are not connected to a students’ experiences at Geneseo.

“If you truly care about these people who smoked drugs or did these minor offenses—and hopefully they are minor offenses—then you’d provide them with services and opportunities to otherwise uplift themselves,” he said. “You should want to better students’ lives and give them more opportunities, not deny them access to school.”

Although the applications may increase once people become aware that they can apply without disclosing past felonies, the college currently has very few felonious students, according to Sancilio. In any given year, Sancilio estimates that less than five students have had felonies in their past. 

“I don’t expect to have so many more people with felony backgrounds applying to Geneseo,” Sancilio said. “But I think students will have to be answering the question multiple times once they’re here and once they apply to different things.”



News editor Malachy Dempsey contributed reporting to this article.