Riverside Underground Scholars (RUS) is student operated and creates a pathway for incarcerated, formerly incarcerated, and system impacted individuals into higher education. We are building a prison-to-school pipeline through recruitment, retention, and advocacy. RUS is an academic support program housed within Student Affairs, in partnership with the CHASS’s Dean’s Office, at UC Riverside.

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 & 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.

While we prioritize our services for formerly incarcerated students, we are aware of the impact the carceral system has on family, friends, and 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 impacted by a loved one being incarcerated. Indeed, it is often our partners, parents, children and/or siblings who face the most significant disadvantages behind the absence of incarnated loved ones, and thus, this categorically merits the designation of system impacted. 

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 initiate the development of 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 in nearly every UC campus. Establishment of Underground Scholars at UC Merced is currently in progress, at which point USI will have secured its presence on every University of California offering undergraduate instruction.

UC Riverside’s USI chapter was established in 2018 and has presented their 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, member of the House Education and Labor Committee. However, there is much work to do, and we invite you to join us.

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 UCR’s chapter president, Greg Sanchez, at gsanc106@ucr.edu.

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UCI Flow chart