Jacquelyn Ramirez Bulletin
By Robert Rios
When she arrived at California State University, Dominguez Hills, Jacquelyn Ramirez knew there was something missing. There were services and organizations for First Generation students, low-income students, students who had served in the military, students with learning disabilities.
But there were no services for students who had previously been incarcerated.
So she decided to start one. For her brother.
Ramirez is co-founder and president of Scholars United, a new student-run organization at CSUDH designed to help previously incarcerated return to college, or enroll for the first time. Her goal is to use her organization to help establish Project Rebound on campus, an organization that for 52 years has helped to ease the transition of those who have served time in prison back into mainstream society.
“I got very involved because of my brother, it affected me so much and is why I realized I needed to help,” said Ramirez. “When I came to this campus I noticed that there was no support whatsoever. We didn’t have a program for formerly incarcerated individuals. Every other school around here has Project Rebound. [My brother] has helped changed my path.”
Scholars United is a student-run organization looking to integrate people who, due to past behavior, are now in a system that, for many, is difficult to escape. From finding gainful employment and a place to live, to living with a permanent scarlet letter of F, for felon, those returning from paying their debt to society often find their work has just begun.
It is difficult work, and one of Scholars United’s main focuses is to combat recidivism, or the increase in odds that a previously incarcerated person will return to jail or prison.
“Statistically, if you have been incarcerated once, your chances of going back shoot up,” Ana Velez, a criminal justice major and outreach coordinator for Scholars United, said. “That is why with our organization we want to empower, give a safe space, and help them find their place in society.”
Another statistic: Formerly incarcerated people are nearly eight times less likely to complete college than the general public.
That is what Project Rebound, the organization Scholars United wants to establish at CSUDH is all about.
Nine CSU’s including Cal State Los Angeles have Project Rebound, an organization founded in San Francisco in 1967 to assist formerly incarcerated people to adjust and fit into campus life. It receives state funding that provides financial aid, counseling, tutoring, and mentoring workshops.
While Project Rebound is the goal, the inspiration of Scholars United is Robert Garcia. A sociology major, Garcia is the treasurer and co-founder of the group, but his life experience may be his greatest contribution. Ensnared by the system in his younger years, he managed to persist and is now determined to help others like him thrive.
One other co-founder of the group is Cynthia Blake who is the vice president. She is formally incarcerated, but is looking to get her masters. Blake is one of the reasons why the organization wants to tackle recidivism and help those that are system impacted.
Ramirez, Blake, and Garcia hope to find others who are system impacted so they can help make a difference in those people’s lives.
They are currently speaking in classrooms talking about the criminal justice system, the effects on the community, and using Garcia’s testimony ,hoping people are inspired to help and to join Scholars United.
“When I went back to school, it was hard to identify other people who were system impacted,” said Garcia. “There was not enough support from the school or faculty to help students like me. We have been on a crusade to find people who are system-impacted so they know there is someone there for them.”
To contact Scholars United email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.