Students Form New Club to Help Others Impacted by Incarceration

UC San Diego students Jose Lumbreras and Albert Nava will start a chapter of Underground Scholars at UCSD in Fall 2019. The organization is the first of its kind to offer on-campus support for students affected by the U.S. system of incarceration.

Underground Scholars is an organization first started by students at UC Berkeley to provide support for previously incarcerated students and system-impacted students who have relatives in prison. The organization aims to “increase access to higher education” as well as to support members on university campuses. 

Albert Nava, one of the starters for Underground Scholars at UCSD, is now a graduate student majoring in ethnic studies. He reached out to Berkeley Underground Scholars two months ago, after seeing their page on Facebook.

Nava was previously imprisoned for 17 years for a felony charge. After his release from prison in 2013, Nava attended the San Diego City College under the inspiration of his two sisters who had both graduated from college. According to Nava, previously incarcerated students face stress when they first enter college campuses. 

“They have been in prison for 10, 15, 20 years, but they are trying to adjust to being here,” Nava told the UCSD Guardian. “I stressed out really hard. I was thinking there is no way that I will make it.”

In order to help its members succeed on campus, the organization at large aims to provide all sorts of support for their members, such as academic advising, reach-out programs to community colleges, and advocacy for policies that increase higher education opportunities for previously incarcerated students.

Underground Scholars at UCSD will hold panels and work with other local organizations that support previously incarcerated and system-impacted students such as Project Rebound and the Transitions Clinic Program from other colleges in San Diego. 

There are only five students on the UCSD campus who are either previously incarcerated or system-impacted to Nava’s knowledge. Beyond those who fall into this narrow category, the organization hopes to also impact the broader student population by sharing their stories. Nava and his co-founders want to encourage other students who may be suffering from stress in school and to be an inspiration for them.

“I want to show them if I can do it, they can do it too,” says Nava.

Since the establishment of the organization at UC Berkeley, Underground Scholars has formed across other UC campuses,  including UC Los Angeles, UC Santa Barbara, and UC Irvine. Nava and Lumbreras plan to hold their first meeting in early October. 

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