University of California at Davis Begins Program to Support Formerly-Incarcerated Students, Making ‘Commitment to Equity’

By Helen Shamamyan 

DAVIS, CA – The University of California, Davis, this week introduced a new program built for formerly incarcerated students and those impacted by the justice system, known as the Underground Scholars program.

Shakil Chaudhry, a formerly incarcerated individual who had experiences with recidivism in past decades, was quoted in a campus information office release encouraging the versatility of the program, stating, “It’s going to open doors to be able to do so much more.” Chaudhry is currently a senior studying for a bachelor’s degree in psychology.

“Having a dedicated space on campus and having people working with our community is impactful,” according to Laurin Williams, a junior at UC Davis who is employed as a student assistant in the program.

Through her experience serving 28 days in county jail, Williams said in the UCD information article they hope the program will help the spaces in higher education accept any formerly incarcerated individual “as a human … that is not here to harm but looking toward our future and our growth,” creating a more welcoming space.

Williams and Chaudhry believe many more students will “get involved with the new program as it becomes better known,” according to the UC Davis information office.

The article also notes Joshua Johnson has been the program director since Nov. 1 of last year, employing his six years of experience aiding students who were involved with and impacted by the legal system, many of those formerly incarcerated

Johnson said he spent more than a decade in prison. He went on to acquire bachelor’s and master’s degrees in sociology.

Johnson asserted, “An education changes a person’s perception of what is possible,” impacting an individual’s abilities to reintegrate into society, “find community, access campus resources, develop a sense of personal agency, learn to advocate for themselves and their community, and connect with meaningful careers.”

Establishing the program “really shows the commitment UC Davis has to equity and doing what we can to change the system,” said Johnson in the UCD release.

The program also introduced Trevor Clark, the program coordinator who earned two associate’s and a bachelor’s degree in Linguistics from Davis while serving nearly a decade in a Nevada state prison.

The Underground Scholars Program accepts its funding from an annual state allocation of $490,000 over the past three years, overseen by the university’s Office of Educational Opportunity and Enrichment Services, which is, said UCD, dedicated to “support(ing) higher education for formerly incarcerated students.

The nearly half-a-million dollar funding will go toward grants for students’ academic and basic needs, as well as resources for “professional development and community advocacy.”

About The Author

I am a student from Southern California that's graduating this year from UC Berkeley. Prior to coming here, I worked as a court watch/ law clerk for a PEO in worker's comp cases of California warehouses. I reported the hearing summaries and outcomes to the employer and maintained correspondence with the attornies prior to and after each hearing on behalf of my boss. I have nearly completed by Bachelors in English, and I am planning on taking a break year before delving into law school to study civil rights defense.

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