Author Archives: Mitch

Harvard says it’s committed to diversity. Look at how it treated a once-incarcerated woman.

Crystal Marie Fleming at Vox:

This fall, a history scholar named Michelle Jones will begin her doctoral work at New York University. Earlier this year, she was rejected from Harvard — after being initially accepted. While there are plenty of academics who could relate to Jones’s exclusion from one of the most elite universities in the world, a closer look beneath the surface reveals the politics that shape the kinds of people who are typically “selected” — and those, like Jones, who are kept out.

The future Dr. Jones has already distinguished herself as one of the most sought-after graduate students in the country. But unlike many of her peers with elite pedigrees who come from generations of unacknowledged privilege, Jones was forced to overcome unfathomable odds in her quest to enter the overwhelmingly white and upper-middle-class world of academia.

Having served 20 years in prison for killing her child, Jones managed to not only survive psychological trauma, sexual violence, physical abuse, poverty, racism, sexism and two decades of incarceration but to obtain a bachelor’s degree, become a certified paralegal, conduct historical research, and produce award-winning scholarship — all from behind bars. Her stellar application included letters of recommendation from internationally known luminaries, including a Pulitzer Prize winner.

Intent on obtaining a doctorate, Jones applied to Harvard and was voted in by the university’s history department. But colleagues in the department of American studies convinced the university’s leadership to reverse Jones’s admission and exclude her from the incoming class of PhD students.

“We didn’t have some preconceived idea about crucifying Michelle,” John Stauffer, a Harvard American studies professor, told the New York Times, which published Jones’s story last week. “But frankly, we knew that anyone could just punch her crime into Google, and Fox News would probably say that P.C. liberal Harvard gave 200 grand of funding to a child murderer, who also happened to be a minority. I mean, c’mon.”

Reasonable people can disagree over whether Harvard should have admitted Jones, based on her criminal history. But it’s disappointing to see Harvard basing its admissions decisions based on the perceived, anticipated reactions of Fox News and randos on the Internet. To quote the eloquent words of a distinguished American studies professor: “I mean, c’mon.”

This is nothing new, says Fleming; Harvard has a long history of championing sexism and white supremacy.

As for Jones’s situation: Yes, her crime is appalling. But the criminal justice system used to be founded on the premise that when you have “paid your debt to society” (to use an old-fashioned phrase) you leave the gates of prison washed clean of wrongdoing in the eyes of society. If Jones has the academic credentials to make it into Harvard, she should be admitted there.