Why a criminal history shouldn't stop students from getting their life back on track.

Keri Blakinger is a felon. She's also an Ivy League graduate.

After graduating from Cornell University in 2014, Blakinger found a good job and moved on with her life. But she watched too many women she spent time with behind bars — women who were equally motivated to put their pasts behind them — struggle to find their footing after prison.

"I was incredibly lucky," Blakinger, who was convicted of a drug-related crime in 2010, wrote in The Washington Post last year.


Photo by Jay Paul/Getty Images.

Right now, receiving a diploma — a key factor that helped Blakinger get on the right track — is out of reach for many people with criminal histories.

While colleges don't outright bar people with criminal backgrounds from applying, it's certainly a weighted consideration during the admissions process. What's more, if you're an ex-con, simply knowing you have to disclose your criminal history on the application might deter you from even applying (because, what's the point if you know it'll greatly weaken your chances?).

Fortunately, that tide seems to be changing for the better.

On June 10, 2016, the White House asked U.S. colleges and universities to stop considering an applicant's criminal history during the admissions process.

"This is about persuading institutions to do the right thing with respect to how they admit their students," Secretary of Education John King told The Atlantic. “This effort is about removing arbitrary obstacles.”

Photo by Olivier Douliery, Pool/Getty Images.

The announcement is part of the White House's Fair Chance Pledge — an effort to encourage both businesses and higher ed institutions to consider retooling their hiring practices and to press student admissions to give people with criminal histories a chance at bettering their lives.

The pledge makes sense for people like Blakinger. Not only has past research suggested there's no empirical evidence suggesting screening students for criminal histories makes campuses safer, but doing so also can actually exacerbate existing problems, like grappling with our massive prison population — a group that's disproportionately people of color.

The White House's new effort is a big win in more ways than one.

The decision not to consider criminal histories — a move several schools, including Columbia University, Arizona State University, and Blakinger's alma mater, Cornell, have already enacted — benefits marginalized groups and can help keep people out of prison.

Photo by Ian Waldie/Getty Images.

Seeing as our prison population is disproportionately nonwhite, allowing more former inmates to access education after serving their sentences (an effort that has been known to curb recidivism) would mean more black and Hispanic Americans choosing school, rather than relapsing into criminal behavior.

There's already been significant progress on this front too. Earlier this year, the Department of Education worked with the creators of the "Common App" — a standardized college application used by about 700 schools across the country — to change the wording of the question that asks applicants about their criminal history.

Considering that question often keeps many people from applying, the tweak is expected to encourage more students with criminal backgrounds to take the leap and go to school.

Obama hasn't just talked the talk on this issue, either — last November, he walked the walk when it comes to the federal government's hiring practices.

The president issued an executive order that ended the requirement of applicants to federal positions to disclose if they've been convicted of a crime. The order essentially "banned the box" that ex-cons would be forced to "check" on applications revealing their criminal history.

"We can't dismiss people out of hand simply because of a mistake they made in the past," Obama said in a speech addressing the order.

Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images.

To Blakinger, who's used her platform to fight for change, giving people like her a second chance is a no-brainer.

"If we want to lower the crime rate, we need to make education accessible to former inmates," she wrote. "Banning the box on college applications not only gives people a chance to rehabilitate their lives, it also makes our communities safer."

Blakinger shouldn't be one of the "lucky" ones: Everyone deserves a fair shot at getting on the right track.

True

When a pet is admitted to a shelter it can be a traumatizing experience. Many are afraid of their new surroundings and are far from comfortable showing off their unique personalities. The problem is that's when many of them have their photos taken to appear in online searches.

Chewy, the pet retailer who has dedicated themselves to supporting shelters and rescues throughout the country, recognized the important work of a couple in Tampa, FL who have been taking professional photos of shelter pets to help get them adopted.

"If it's a photo of a scared animal, most people, subconsciously or even consciously, are going to skip over it," pet photographer Adam Goldberg says. "They can't visualize that dog in their home."

Adam realized the importance of quality shelter photos while working as a social media specialist for the Humane Society of Broward County in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

"The photos were taken top-down so you couldn't see the size of the pet, and the flash would create these red eyes," he recalls. "Sometimes [volunteers] would shoot the photos through the chain-link fences."

That's why Adam and his wife, Mary, have spent much of their free time over the past five years photographing over 1,200 shelter animals to show off their unique personalities to potential adoptive families. The Goldbergs' wonderful work was recently profiled by Chewy in the video above entitled, "A Day in the Life of a Shelter Pet Photographer."

This article originally appeared on 12.02.19


Just imagine being an 11-year-old boy who's been shuffled through the foster care system. No forever home. No forever family. No idea where you'll be living or who will take care of you in the near future.

Then, a loving couple takes you under their care and chooses to love you forever.

What could one be more thankful for?

That's why when a fifth grader at Deerfield Elementary School in Cedar Hills, Utah was asked by his substitute teacher what he's thankful for this Thanksgiving, he said finally being adopted by his two dads.

via OD Action / Twitter

To the child's shock, the teacher replied, "that's nothing to be thankful for," and then went on a rant in front of 30 students saying that "two men living together is a sin" and "homosexuality is wrong."

While the boy sat there embarrassed, three girls in the class stood up for him by walking out of the room to tell the principal. Shortly after, the substitute was then escorted out of the building.

While on her way out she scolded the boy, saying it was his fault she was removed.

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One of the boy's parents-to-be is Louis van Amstel, is a former dancer on ABC's "Dancing with the Stars." "It's absolutely ridiculous and horrible what she did," he told The Salt Lake Tribune. "We were livid. It's 2019 and this is a public school."

The boy told his parents-to-be he didn't speak up in the classroom because their final adoption hearing is December 19 and he didn't want to do anything that would interfere.

He had already been through two failed adoptions and didn't want it to happen again.

via Loren Javier / Flickr

A spokesperson for the Alpine School District didn't go into detail about the situation but praised the students who spoke out.

"Fellow students saw a need, and they were able to offer support," David Stephenson said. "It's awesome what happened as far as those girls coming forward."

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He also said that "appropriate action has been taken" with the substitute teacher.

"We are concerned about any reports of inappropriate behavior and take these matters very seriously," Kelly Services, the school the contracts out substitute teachers for the district, said in a statement. "We conduct business based on the highest standards of integrity, quality, and professional excellence. We're looking into this situation."

After the incident made the news, the soon-to-be adoptive parents' home was covered in paper hearts that said, "We love you" and "We support you."

Religion is supposed to make us better people.

But what have here is clearly a situation where a woman's judgement about what is good and right was clouded by bigoted dogma. She was more bothered by the idea of two men loving each other than the act of pure love they committed when choosing to adopt a child.