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On Thursday, June 28th, President Karol V. Mason spoke at The Aspen Ideas Festival discussing “Criminal Justice Reform, Politics, and Forging a Way Forward.” Since The Aspen Ideas Festival gathered global leaders to examine challenging topical issues, President Mason wanted to share this essay with both the John Jay and Aspen community.

Give Black and Brown Children the Room to Make Mistakes
By Karol V. Mason, President of John Jay College of Criminal Justice

When a parent looks down at their newborn child, they’re filled with hope. A hope that if this child works hard in life, he’ll be successful. It doesn’t matter where he was born, how much his parents make, or his ethnicity. That hope is there. It’s a hope we pride ourselves on as a nation—we’re the “Land of Opportunity.” But in today’s America—where many black and brown children are often looked at with more suspicion and less empathy—we have to start asking ourselves a tough question: Do we give every child the same opportunities?

“Here’s a simple truth: We all have our biases. And many of us don’t understand our biases until we see the data.”—President Karol V. Mason

The Reality
Here’s a simple truth: We all have our biases. And many of us don’t understand our biases until we see the data. Today we have multiple studies and reports, proving that people of color are disproportionately impacted by the criminal justice system. The United States Sentencing Commission issued an update on its report, checking if the racial disparity in sentencing was because one group had more violent crime than another. But, when they normalized the data for that factor, they concluded that sentencing was still unjustifiably disproportionate. Black and brown people are just being treated more harshly. It’s why black parents tell their children, “You can’t afford to make mistakes that other people can, because you won’t get a second chance.” We’ve all made mistakes as kids. It’s part of adolescent development. The problem is that we’ll give some young people the room to make mistakes, but we don’t give black and brown children that same room.

“We need to see the humanity in people that may not look like us, may not sound like us, but in every sense that matters are a part of us.”—President Karol V. Mason

The “Otherness”
What we need to do is see people as people. We need to see the humanity in people that may not look like us, may not sound like us, but in every sense that matters are a part of us. In many cases, without consciously knowing it, we create an “otherness” that demonizes the unfamiliar. What we should be doing is recognizing our similarities. We have to start seeing black and brown children as our children. I know that for some people it’s disconcerting seeing the demographic of our country changing. But the reality is, in the not so distant future, Caucasians will be the minority. That means that black and brown children are a part of our future, and we should be investing in them. 

“You’d be surprised what something as simple as a MetroCard or a regular meal can do for a student.”—President Karol V. Mason

The Investment
When it comes to social and economic mobility, education is the key. You can’t succeed in this society anymore without an education. A high school education used to be the minimum, now a college degree is the minimum for most jobs. Right now more black and brown children are attending college, but the number of them graduating is not increasing. That’s why student success is my biggest focus as President of John Jay College. We have to change that paradigm and get those numbers up. It’s all about where we focus our attention and our investment. Many of these students come from families where there’s poverty, homelessness, food insecurity and undocumented status. They’re fighting all these odds, and it’s in everyone’s best interest to help give them the resources they need to graduate. You’d be surprised what something as simple as a MetroCard or a regular meal can do for a student. These students need support and education, as well as structure and boundaries. But those boundaries should support their success, instead of making their lives even harder.     

“It’s all about creating a supportive environment instead of a punitive one, because it’s our job to keep children in school, not to push them out.”—President Karol V. Mason

The Cycle
I believe that as a society we’ve become less forgiving. And this less forgiving nature impacts black and brown children deeply in two specific areas: the classroom and the criminal justice system. In many cases, if a child doesn’t follow the teacher’s instructions in the classroom, it quickly becomes a behavioral issue with someone being called in to remove the child. But it doesn’t have to always be this way. I know a police officer who changed this dynamic simply by stooping down and whispering to a student, “What’s wrong?” Instead of telling this young, black high school student, “Your teacher told you to lift your head off your desk. Lift up your head.” He had the sensitivity to understand there could be a bigger issue at hand. As it turns out, the child had witnessed a friend being shot and killed the day before. He was still processing that trauma. This police officer broke the cycle. He didn’t make a scene. He just asked the student to come with him to get some help. It’s all about creating a supportive environment instead of a punitive one, because it’s our job to keep children in school, not to push them out. And when young people get tied up in our criminal justice system, we need to acknowledge their humanity and provide the resources for them to succeed afterwards. The research is clear, you keep people from coming back into the system if they have jobs, education and a connection to family. And isn’t that what we want? Successful reentry lessens the cost on the taxpayer, and strengthens families and communities because they become productive members of society.

“Black and brown children deserve the opportunity to succeed. And as a society, we can’t afford not to give it to them.”—President Karol V. Mason

The Future
At John Jay my ultimate motivation is helping students find the resources they need to thrive. And that’s what our society should be doing, providing systems that help all children, regardless of race, ethnicity, income or status. Even when you look at it from a cost perspective, in the long run, it’s cheaper to educate children, and it’s cheaper to keep them out of the criminal justice system. We have to look at black and brown children as our hope and our future. The next great novelist could be that child that was kicked out of class. The scientist that finds a cure for cancer could be that child that was locked up. Black and brown children deserve the opportunity to succeed. And as a society, we can’t afford not to give it to them. 

See President Mason’s “Conversations with Great Leaders” at The Aspen Institute



September 7, 2017

Re: White House Decision to Rescind DACA

John Jay Community,

John Jay’s mission is to Educate for Justice and develop Fierce Advocates for Justice. Yesterday, we all witnessed what it means to be a Fierce Advocate for Justice. Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and CUNY’s Chancellor, J.B. Milliken, chose John Jay College of Criminal Justice as the place to announce the lawsuit filed by Attorney General Schneiderman on behalf of the State of New York, 14 other states and the District of Columbia, challenging the Administration’s decision to rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (“DACA”).  One of our own students was given an opportunity to share how the decision to rescind DACA would impact him personally, as well as the larger John Jay community and our country.

Our mission is even more vital given these recent developments. As I said in my letter on August 30th and as the Chancellor made abundantly clear in his remarks yesterday, the entire CUNY system and John Jay are committed to doing everything that we can to support and protect our students, regardless of their immigration status. Through your hard work, you have earned the right to be John Jay students, and we intend to use all of our available resources to ensure that you have an opportunity to succeed.

America is a nation of immigrants, and it is this wonderful mosaic of backgrounds and experiences that makes this country unique and a model for the world.

We will join with the overwhelming chorus of voices speaking out against the decision to rescind DACA, and leverage our resources to persuade Congress to right this obvious wrong. Thank you to the many faculty and staff who have been working together tirelessly to support our students, and who will continue to post updated information about available resources at the top of the John Jay website:

Please know that every member of John Jay’s leadership team, our faculty and staff are here to support you. You are not alone.

Karol V. Mason


This site is dedicated to supporting John Jay students, faculty, and staff seeking resources after the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election. Click on any title above to download an information sheet and find resources that may be relevant to your needs.

Updates and revisions will be ongoing: feel free to suggest additions and alternatives!

Check the blog posts to the right for updates and announcements. Questions? Contact us by clicking here.

NEW!! Resources for Undocumented Students: Link

NEW!! Resources for Climate Change: Link


The John Jay College community recognizes that many feel impacted by the recent events in our country. For the overall health of our community, we are sending you some strategies to help manage any feelings that may arise.

1) Maintain your normal routine and engage in healthy activities.  It is important to maintain your regular routine and find ways to participate in activities that provide balance in your life. Try not to withdraw. Consider exercise, alone or with others, as a way to induce feelings of well-being.

2) Practice acceptance. Try self-soothing strategies like taking a walk, meditating, mindfulness exercises, listening to music, or whatever you find helpful. It is now time for you to take care of yourself.

3) Practice reflection and pay attention to your early awareness signs.  Allow yourself some time to reflect on your reactions, your personal history, and ways that your values and well-being feel threatened. If you can watch your own reactions to stress, you can then address them.  This might be a tightening of your throat, tension in your muscles, negative evaluations of the other person, or an impulse to act out.

4)  Model healthy communication and seek community.  This is an opportunity to show that you can elevate conversations, take a higher path, and engage in positive conversation. Sharing experiences and ideas with others can be a way to strengthen positive community values and shared identities.  By helping to do this, you may feel good about yourself! There are a number of groups on campus that you may want to consider joining if you have not yet joined.

5) Limit your intake of news and social media. If you feel distressed by what is in the media, for the moment, limit your consumption of Facebook, Twitter and other social media sources that are likely to be full of distressing material. This also includes watching and reading the news. There are apps and websites such as LeechBlock, or SelfControl that can help you by temporarily blocking access to social media or certain websites.

6) Be thankful. Jotting down 10 to 15 things you are grateful for – such as your health or your family – can help you maintain perspective. The list will remind you of the people and things that provide you with strength and support.

7) Acknowledge feelings:  Reactions to events vary from person to person. Some experience intense feelings while others experience nothing at all.  Allow yourself to feel what you feel and don’t judge your personal experience or the experience of others.

8) Utilize your supports and resources: Many have a natural tendency toward isolation when feeling triggered or emotional.  Reach out to those around you, family and friends, who may be experiencing similar feelings. Utilize support groups or other resources in your community.