Riverside Underground Scholars

Building a Prison-to-University Pipeline

Riverside Underground Scholars (RUS) is an academic support program for incarcerated, formerly incarcerated, and system-impacted students. In addition, it creates a pathway for incarcerated, formerly incarcerated, and system-impacted individuals into higher education by building a prison-to-school pipeline through recruitment, retention, and advocacy.
We directly challenge the stigmas associated with our community. The program cultivates a sense of belonging and a healthy community for formerly incarcerated and system-impacted students to thrive at UCR.
While we prioritize our services for formerly incarcerated students, we are aware of the impact the incarcerated system has on family, friends, and the community. As such, we fully support and welcome system-impacted members. We define system impacted as those with arrests/convictions but no incarceration and those who have been directly affected by a loved one being incarcerated. Indeed, our partners, parents, children, and/or siblings often face the most significant disadvantages behind the absence of incarcerated loved ones. Thus, this categorically merits the designation of system-impacted.

Director: Ismael Davila

Email: Ismael.Davila@ucr.edu


Underground Scholars Initiative

A Student-Led Organization

Underground Scholars Initiative (USI) is student operated and is composed of nearly all UC campuses statewide. As a statewide collective, USI works in cohesion with RUS. The two organizations, RUS and USI, are separate and aligned. From our allies to the north, such as UC Berkeley, UC Santa Barbara, and UC Santa Cruz, to our allies closer to home; for example, UCLA, UC San Diego, and UC Irvine, our statewide collective stands in solidarity with one another.

If you are interested in learning more about Underground Scholars and would like to become involved with our mission to recruit, retain, and advocate for the higher education of formerly incarcerated and system-impacted students, please contact the student organization at undergroundscholarsucr@Gmail.com or  usi@ucr.edu


Our History

Underground Scholars was started in the Spring of 2013 by formerly incarcerated and system-impacted students at UC Berkeley as the Underground Scholars Initiative (USI), a student organization.

In 2014, USI received funding from the University of California Berkeley through a fee referendum that students voted on. That funding made it possible for USI to secure office space on campus, hire their first director, transfer coordinator, and five formerly incarcerated students to work in their office. In 2016, they partnered with Senator Loni Hancock, who led an effort to secure funding from the state to develop an academic support program to serve formerly incarcerated students in addition to the student-operated organization, USI. Berkeley Underground Scholars (BUS) was born out of that effort, and the statewide movement of USI began.

As Berkeley’s USI members completed undergraduate coursework and advanced into graduate programs across the UC system, they began building chapters on other campuses. As of today, Underground Scholars is on nearly every UC campus. The establishment of Underground Scholars at UC Merced is currently in progress, at which point USI will have secured its presence at every University of California offering undergraduate instruction.

UC Riverside’s USI chapter was established in 2018 and has presented its work at the Beyond the Bars Conference at Columbia University, the National Conference on Higher Education in Prison in St. Louis, Missouri, and UCR’S Persist: Women’s Political Engagement Conference. Underground Scholars at UC Riverside is proud to proclaim they have earned supportive relationships with Assemblyman Jose Media as well as Congressman Mark Takano, a member of the House Education and Labor Committee.


UCI Flow chart