Thanks to last year’s donors, we were able to spend a day of rejuvenation and tranquility at Vichy Springs as we continue to promote self-care, community building, and wellness. We hope to offer this outing to USI members in Spring 2024.
Underground Scholars Initiative (USI) is an ASUC Sponsored registered student organization at UC Berkeley that works in partnership with BUS. USI is completely student-run. The two organizations, BUS & USI, are separate and aligned.
Berkeley Underground Scholars (BUS) 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. BUS is an academic support program housed within the Division of Equity and Inclusion at UC Berkeley.
We prioritize our services for formerly incarcerated students. We define system-impacted as a person who is legally, economically or familially affected negatively by the incarceration of a close relative. System-impacted also includes people arrested and/or convicted without incarceration.
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 rent some office space at Stiles Hall and hire our first director, transfer coordinator, and five formerly incarcerated students to work in our office.
In 2016, we partnered with Senator Loni Hancock. She 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 organization, USI. Berkeley Underground Scholars was born out of that effort.
Shortly after USI was developed at UC Berkeley, formerly incarcerated students at UCLA began to develop a chapter. As Berkeley’s USI members graduated and spread through the UC system for graduate school, they began building chapters on other campuses. There is now a USI chapter at every undergraduate serving University of California campus.
USI aims to shift the School-to-Prison pipeline to a Prison-to-School pipeline using higher education as an alternative to incarceration.
Our program model and mission have been developed and actualized through: RECRUITMENT, RETENTION, and ADVOCACY. USI recently added a fourth pillar: WELLNESS.
We recruit in prisons, jails, and community colleges. We serve hundreds of incarcerated students annually by providing academic advising, transcript analysis, and UC application support. We offer paid leadership development roles, cross-enrollment in UC classes, and transfer application support for community college students.
We serve formerly incarcerated and system impacted UC students with resources to ensure their retention and graduation. We help students meet critical needs, including transportation, housing, and food; assistance securing financial aid; academic, career, and mental health advising; and peer mentorship. We partner with a range of departments on campus to develop and offer coursework and enrichment opportunities centered around advancing our students’ academic and career goals.,
We're working on expanding our model to the entire UC system. We work with admissions professionals, deans, and faculty on campus to eliminate barriers to higher education faced by our students and advocate on their behalf in cases involving their parole and probation officers. Additionally, our students conduct policy research, draft proposals, and co-sponsor state bills to build skills in analysis, writing, and advocacy.
To learn more about our work, please follow this link to our website: https://undergroundscholars.berkeley.edu/our-work
Chancellor's Award for Public Service
Underground Scholars won the Student Group Award for Civic Engagement in 2022
We are utilizing the crowdfunding platform to raise funds for community-building activities. When asked what they value about Underground Scholars, the overwhelming majority of students stated that they look to USI to build community and give them a sense of belonging at what can often be described as an intimidating and impersonal environment of a large research university.
Our student organization will use crowdfunding donations for collective meals, teambuilding activities (half-day) through Cal Adventures, an outing on college night to a local bowling alley, and tickets to an amusement park (Great America).
Any additional funding that we receive will go toward sponsoring more community meals. At this point, we hope to join together for a community meal once a month. Yet we acknowledge that if we could sponsor dinners once a week, instead of once a month, our community would grow stronger collectively.
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Stiles Hall, 2400 C Bancroft Way, Berkeley, CA 94720
USI Leadership Team 2023-24
Juan Francisco Salinas—-- Treasurer
Alexander Nielsen—--------- Secretary
Michelle Marie Maxwell—-- Advocacy Chair
Cesar Ramon Garcia—----- Recruitment Chair
Rainbow Alvarez—----------- Retention Chair