Change is coming with Project Change

Over the summer of 2020, newly-elected Associated Students of Skyline College (ASSC) leaders were mandated to partake in a series of leadership training sessions that involved planning how they could best serve the Skyline College student body. Among them was Allen Bustos.
During the election in April 2020, Bustos garnered enough votes to secure the student senator position. It was a big feat for him; however, there is a factor that has been holding back his confidence and courage in his self-expression: He is a system-impacted student.
Bustos shared some of the hardships he has encountered due to being a system-impacted student. He said that he has been the most affected by his circumstances when it has come to the legality of searches being conducted on him, and applying for work and clearances.
As a student, he finds difficulty in “finding the right crowd” — a crowd that he felt comfortable with without worrying what others thought of him.
“For example, there are students who already have formed a group,” Bustos said. “I kind of feel timid to ask for help. … I didn’t want to feel like I was holding other students back by always trying to ask for help.”
Not all “help” comes in a form of material — Sometimes members of college faculty and staff serve as help themselves.
During the training period, Bustos opened up to Alvin Gubatina, the college’s student life and leadership manager and adviser of the ASSC, about his circumstances.
“I’ve shared my story with him on a weekly basis, and he understood how hard it was for me to to express that,” Bustos said in reference to Gubatina. “And from there, he introduced me to Project Change.”


What is Project Change?
Project Change is basically designed to open doors, remove barriers, and create community for justices impacted students,” said Chris Woo, the program services coordinator for the social science and creative arts division, which the program is under. “… And the program connects formerly incarcerated and system-impacted students to resources and support services at Skyline College, and then also in the larger local and statewide community.”
“The United States has probably the highest incarceration rate in the world,” John Skovgaard said, the faculty instructor for Project Change. He also stated the following:


“That says a lot about our country, the way we approach our justice system,” said Skovgaard, who also teaches US history. “And then, on top of that, oftentimes the probation and parole requirements really conflict with educational goals.”
Additionally, Skovgaard said that the program started last spring 2020 in March and “was modeled” after the same program at the College of San Mateo.
“Their original model was, first of all, teaching dual enrollment classes in juvenile hall, but then also supporting the transition for the former juvenile to College of San Mateo,” Skovgaard said. “We took that model and basically expanded it to all system-impacted students, whether formerly incarcerated or just impacted by the justice system.”


Project Change’s services
“We are like a hub to access campus services for system-impacted students,” Skovgaard said. “So basically, all these programs that are on campus in services, we make sure that system-impacted students have clear access to them. We also connect students to community-wide and statewide opportunities and events, such as the Rising Scholars Network, which is a network of programs that support system-impacted students of community colleges throughout the state.”
“Project Change is dedicated to supporting students who have been impacted by the carceral system through community building and a connection to resources and support services at Skyline College,” said Danni Redding Lapuz, the dean of the social sciences and creative arts division.
Some of the services Lapuz mentioned included the following:

  • priority registration
  • student supplies
  • campus academic, professional, and wellness services
  • record clearance


The importance of record clearance
Skovgaard and Woo pointed out how criminal conviction can be a factor in determining one’s qualifications, benefits and employment. That said, Woo pointed out that “record clearance can impact things such as employment, housing, student loans, and occupational licensing.”
“… Whether or not you can even get licensed to do a job that you want to do can be impacted by what your record says,” Woo said. “And so, being able to clear that record can impact whether or not you can even get licensed to do the job, along with future employment opportunities as well.”

There are four methods by which record clearance can be attained. The following are applicable for California state convictions:

  • Expungements or dismissal of convictions
  • Reducing felonies to misdemeanors
  • Proof of rehabilitation
  • The sealing of one’s record

Since 2018, the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) has put the Fair Chance Act into effect, which makes it illegal to ask for one’s criminal record before making a job offer. According to Woo, under the Ban the Box movement, employers can only ask criminal history “after a conditional offer of employment.”
Under Assembly Bill 2138 of 2018, the majority of boards regulated by California’s Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) cannot deny a licensee if:

  • they have not been convicted of a crime for at least seven years
  • their convictions have been dismissed (expunged)
  • they have provided evidence of rehabilitation
  • they have been granted clemency or pardon
  • an arrest resulted in “disposition other than a conviction”


Challenges Project Change has faced
One of the issues Project Change is currently facing is the marketing of its program.
“The biggest challenge has been connecting with the student population remotely, and making sure students know that we exist and that we’re here because we didn’t exist on campus, virtually at all prior to COVID,” Woo said.

Skyline College Project Change

According to Skovgaard, if it weren’t for COVID-19, they simply would have “put out a table one day in the quad, and promoted our program”, as well as put out fliers, and let the information spread via word-of-mouth.
Aside from the program itself, Project Change also has a club that currently has 10 members. Students who are formerly incarcerated, have been placed on probation or parole, or have been otherwise impacted by incarceration are eligible for the program.
Skovgaard and Woo described their ideas for what changes could be made in order to create a better American justice system.
Skovgaard said that funding could be “much more productively spent” on programs such as “child and family support, early childhood education, childcare, and mental health services”, rather than on funding incarceration.
Woo agreed, and emphasized the point that putting the money into programs that “will reduce incarceration before it even happens.”
“I think that there’s a need to look at what really works, and there’s data around things that work and to make policy decisions based on that information,” Woo said.
On May 3, the Appropriations Committee heard and is in the process of reviewing SB-731, which would require state justice departments to seal the records of people who served their sentences, parole and probation time and have no criminal involvement two years after.
On May 7, the results of the ASSC general election were announced, and Bustos will once again serve the Skyline College community in his second term as a student senator. Apart from being reinstated, Bustos is also Project Change’s current student ambassador.
“(Project Change) raises awareness for the community as a whole towards those impacted families or those directly (affected by incarceration),” Bustos said.