Beyond the Barriers: Research and Support for the System Impacted Community

Tina Curiel-Allen, co-founder of Beyond the Stats, the student organization that led to the creation of Beyond the Barriers. Photo: Daniel Oberbauer
Tina Curiel-Allen, co-founder of Beyond the Stats, the student organization that led to the creation of Beyond the Barriers. Photo: Daniel Oberbauer

A new initiative aimed at addressing the impacts of California’s carceral system – both on our campus and throughout the state and the nation–launches this month. Beyond the Barriers supports students, faculty, and staff who have been impacted by the carceral system:  those who have had an immediate family member incarcerated, arrested, or detained, or have been themselves. The initiative also fosters research on California’s carceral system, and offers educational resources. 

The initiative is led by Ofelia Cuevas, Assistant Professor of Chicana/o Studies in collaboration with Undergraduate Education, and championed by a board whose members include faculty from the School of Law and Imagining America; student affairs and advising professionals; students and alumni; and national researchers.

Renewed Engagement with a Longstanding Problem

In the wake of several high-profile instances of extreme police violence against African Americans, UC Davis has a renewed focus on understanding and addressing structural racism and inequality, and national attention has been focused on the carceral system. Being system-impacted has long been an invisible problem, both on campus and in society at large. While system-impacted students face a host of challenges, stigma and fear can make it difficult to reach out for help, and for campus community members to speak out and share their stories with students to let them know they can safely ask for help.

As my peers were receiving care packages in their first year, I received documentation from a correctional facility to take to the financial aid office to prove my independent status. When individuals around me were talking about how much they were looking forward to breaks, I was dreading them. I had to find a place to stay.

Beyond the Barriers aims to break down stigma, offer ways for our system-impacted community to connect for mutual support, and to address the system through research and education. Critical to the initiative is focused research that engages and challenges the massive expansion of the California state prison system and other local and federal security structures that have disproportionately affected people of color and working class populations, and has adversely impacted the state’s investment in education. 

It Began with a Student Group

In 2016, two sociology undergraduates, both formerly incarcerated, approached Cuevas when their criminal justice courses inaccurately portrayed the experience. Cuevas, a scholar of the carceral system and herself system-impacted, understood the significance of their experience. That meeting led to the founding of Beyond the Stats, a student-run organization that produces an independent zine and has created a student led course, a support network, and community outreach. 

While BTS is thriving, Cuevas recognized a need to create a campus structure that could address these needs from a faculty and administrative perspective. She received support from Undergraduate Education, as well as King Hall  School of Law, Imagining America, and Hart Hall Interdisciplinary Programs. 

When they go in, you go in.

Support for Students, Community for All

System impacted students often shoulder extraordinary responsibilities; stigma makes it difficult to seek help. “As my peers were receiving care packages in their first year, I received documentation from a correctional facility to take to the financial aid office to prove my independent status. When individuals around me were talking about how much they were looking forward to breaks, I was dreading them. I had to find a place to stay,” said academic advisor Shannen Schobinger. The initiative offers a list of staff who are equipped to provide support, including at least one academic advisor in each college. At the same time, faculty and staff who are system-impacted can benefit from a supportive group. Incarceration impacts entire families. “When they go in, you go in,” said Undergraduate Education's Regina Slaughter-Canegan, who is also system impacted.

Growing Research

The rise of the carceral state has adversely affected the viability, stability and future of California. “We are a research university, and we approach society’s most difficult problems through the lens of critically engaged research,” according to Cuevas. “Thirty years of state prison building and the so-called ‘war on drugs’ and being ‘tough on crime’ has created a significant population of Californians whose lives have been diminished by an inhumane system with the Orwellian name of ‘Justice System.’ We have to do better -- for our students, and for our state." 

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