The problem with running a political movement composed of a wide variety of single-issue groups is that it can be like herding cats. As long as everyone stays primarily in their own lane and agrees to cooperate you can gain a lot of ground. But as we sometimes see with the Democratic Party, when some of those issues begin to conflict with each other your movement can begin splintering. We’ve already seen that happening with the conflict between the Women’s March and the antisemitic BDS movement, but there are other examples on the way.
The latest is highlighted in a report from US News this week. It involves two pet projects in the Democratic caucus which might not seem to be related at first glance, but they’re now on a collision course on our nation’s college campuses. One is the #MeToo movement, which you’re no doubt familiar with already. The other is the “Ban the Box” push, which we’ve written about here before. That one is the effort to try to stop employers from asking about applicants’ criminal backgrounds so ex-felons can have a better shot at landing jobs.
How do these two causes intersect? When people who have been convicted of (or even suspected of or investigated for) sexual assault, misconduct or impropriety, #MeToo has zero interest in seeing them accepted at their schools.
So-called “ban the box” policies, in which admissions applications eliminate questions of criminal or discipline history, may be at odds with efforts to combat sexual misconduct on campuses.
With the country poised to address criminal justice reform, colleges and universities are increasingly making spaces for formerly incarcerated people. But for many institutions of higher education, especially those where the majority of students live on campus, safeguarding against admitting someone with a history of sexual misconduct is also increasingly top of mind.
Those competing interests – being a space for second chances while also protecting against potential dangers – are playing out in real time as supporters of the #MeToo movement are colliding head-on with supporters of the “ban the box” movement, splintering a civil rights community that historically falls on the same side of an issue.
This is NIMBYism at its finest. Social justice warriors, including many on campuses, want the prisons largely emptied and don’t want someone’s history of lawbreaking following them around and preventing them from having a second chance at a law-abiding career. But that desire is easier to push for when it’s in the abstract. It’s fine if it’s a former felon looking for a position at Somebody Else’s Organization. But if they want to come to your school, it’s “Whoa. Not so fast there, buddy.”
This food fight highlights problems with both of these social justice movements. When a person is convicted of a crime and then pays their debt to society, they’re supposed to be able to come out of prison and try to start over. But employers also demand (and should have) the right to know if the new accountant they’re about to hire has done ten years for embezzlement or tax fraud. It takes a while to build your reputation back up if you’ve been convicted of a serious crime and that’s just a reality of life.
On the other hand, activists fighting against what they perceive as a “campus rape culture” have taken a real problem (incidents of actual sexual assault) and warped it in many ways. Setting up kangaroo courts on campus and generally treating every accused person as guilty until proven innocent has done them no favors.
Now we see the entire “guilty until proven innocent” idea being applied to college admissions. We’re not just talking about convicted rapists here, either. As the linked article notes, any student who is ejected or simply under investigation by one of these kangaroo courts gets an asterisk put by their name and it follows them to any other school where they may apply. Activists don’t want them even considered for admission if they have the stain of sexual misconduct on their person.
But what about emptying the prisons, treating ex-convicts fairly and giving everyone a fresh start? It’s a big theme in liberal circles, but apparently not if you’re talking about colleges and universities. No second chance for you, pal. So what are the Democrats to do? These cats are getting harder and harder to chase into the corral.