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May 25, 2021

Grants support programming for Underground Scholars Initiative

The money comes from UC Berkeley’s Underground Scholars, via grants from the Andrew Mellon and Crankstart foundations to support the expansion of the Underground Scholars model UC-wide

Author: Sandra Baltazar Martínez
May 25, 2021

UC Riverside’s Underground Scholars Initiative, or USI, received more than $140,000 in grants to help expand the group’s programming. 

The money came from UC Berkeley’s Underground Scholars, via grants from the Andrew Mellon Foundation and the Crankstart Foundation to support the expansion of the Underground Scholars model UC-wide. 

USI at UCR, launched in 2018, is designed to support UCR students who are formerly imprisoned or are system-impacted, meaning they have family or friends who are incarcerated. It is modeled after the group at UC Berkeley, where Underground Scholars originated. Now nine UC campuses have chapters as well.


The Mellon Foundation grant to Berkeley’s Underground Scholars is for $1 million over two years; UCR’s USI will receive a subgrant from the Mellon Foundation for $90,000 per year and should be used to hire a full-time director as a contract employee for one year to develop and expand Underground Scholars at UCR.

The Crankstart Foundation grant is $250,000 over three years. The funds will be allocated between the nine UC campuses. UCR will receive a subgrant of $28,500 for the first year. The money will be used to hire student workers, develop programs, host events, purchase materials, and supplies, and other needs related to recruitment and retention of incarcerated and formerly incarcerated students.

“Now that we have this funding, it feels like doors will be opening up,” said Carlos Cruz, '19, USI president and current doctoral student in history. Cruz also earned his bachelor’s degree in history. 

UCR USI has been working diligently to visit with state lawmakers to support bills that allow formerly incarcerated individuals to study and work without being hindered due to their criminal records, especially those whose crimes were committed decades ago. 

Several members have also participated as panelists in the 2019 National Conference on Higher Education in Prisons and the 2020 Beyond the Bars Conference at Columbia School of Social Work.  

UCR’s group has 92 members who are formerly incarcerated or system impacted. The exact number of formerly incarcerated college students in California is unknown, primarily because colleges and universities do not systematically collect this information.

The executive board, comprised of Cruz, Jazmin Garcia, Fidel Chagolla, Precious Fasakin, and Greg Sanchez, is working with faculty and various groups on and off campus to expand professional work opportunities for students while they are at UCR and beyond. 

“This funding will provide USI students the opportunity to engage on campus and the community,” said Garcia, USI statewide leader and who will graduate this June with a degree in ethnic studies. “This is a result of all the support we have from UCR’s student organizations, ASUCR, faculty, student centers, and departments across campus.” 

UC Riverside Underground Scholars in Sacramento. (Photo courtesy of UCR's Underground Scholars)


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