Our Mission


Berkeley Underground Scholars, also known as BUS, creates a pathway for formerly incarcerated and system impacted individuals into higher education. We are building a prison-to-school pipeline through recruitment, retention, and advocacy. Our continued success directly challenges the stigmas associated with our population.

BUS challenges societal norms concerning incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people, specifically students impacted by issues of mass incarceration, imprisonment, and detainment of any kind. The goal of BUS is to bridge the popular academic theoretical discourse of mass incarceration with one that is grounded in the lived experiences of UC Berkeley students and people from surrounding communities. We aim to shift the School-to-Prison pipeline to a Prison-to-School pipeline using higher education as an alternative to incarceration.

We provide students with a variety of academic and co-curricular support that are essential to achieving their academic, professional and personal goals.  Committed to current and prospective formerly and directly impacted students, USI programs fall into three broad strategies: 1) Recruitment, 2) Retention, 3) Advocacy and Policy.


Our History


Berkeley Underground Scholars Initiative (BUS) is a grassroots effort created by UC Berkeley students who have been directly impacted by the Prison Industrial Complex, including those formerly incarcerated people or with incarcerated family members. BUS is now part of UC Berkeley’s Centers for Educational Equity and Excellence (CE3). The Centers for Educational Equity and Excellence ensure non-traditional students excel at the top public University in the world. By respecting every undergraduate as a unique individual, CE3 programs empower UC Berkeley students to achieve and lead.


BUS Director: Azadeh Zohrabi


Azadeh is an activist and strategist with extensive experience in public policy, leadership development, community organizing, and management. As the daughter of two formerly incarcerated parents, Azadeh is deeply familiar with the intergenerational impacts of imprisonment. She has been active in prison reform efforts and advocacy for nearly 20 years. Azadeh previously worked at Legal Services for Prisoners with Children leading the organization’s fundraising and program management. Prior to that she worked in leadership roles as a lawyer, advocate, researcher, and organizer on statewide and national campaigns including the successful effort to end long term solitary confinement in California. She is a co-founder of the Ella Baker Worker’s Association and helped negotiate their first contract. Her work has been cited by courts, attorneys, and scholars and has been featured in The New York Times, The Nation, The Guardian, Washington Post, The Atlantic, Ebony, Mother Jones and Al Jazeera. Azadeh earned her BA from UC Riverside where she studied Ethnic Studies and a JD from UC Hastings College of the Law. She is an active alumna of the Women’s Policy Institute, Soros Justice Fellowship, and New Leaders Council Oakland.