California Institute for Rural Studies


rooted in

The California Institute for Rural Studies conducts community-driven research for action in rural communities working for justice, equity and health.

Learn more about the grassroots organizations that CIRS works with to achieve rural justice.

Meet the CIRS team

Alondra Santiago
Associate Researcher
Pixley, CA occupied, unceded Yokuts lands

Read More

Coming from an immigrant farmworker household in rural California, I felt unseen; often forgotten by our representatives. I witnessed my community and loved ones struggle due to lack of resources. This fueled my passion to aid and fight for my community. I was granted the opportunity to work within the Central Valley through my fellowship with NextGen California. This organization afforded me the ability to work on three major components: (1) getting out the vote, (2) preventing further oil drilling in Arvin, and (3) organizing a march to “Keeping Families Together.” I loved my time in the organization as my passion grew to keep empowering my community. For this reason, I went on to earn my political science degree from UC Davis seeking to come back to the Central Valley. This past year, I was honored with the opportunity to be involved in Phase 2 of the California COVID-19 Farmworker Study. I am proud to be continuing my work with the California Institute for Rural Studies, and excited to return home to be bridging political advocacy and community.  

Caroline Collins, PhD
Cal Ag Roots Producer
Chula Vista, CA occupied, unceded Kumeyaay lands

Read More

Caroline first joined the CIRS Team as an Archival Researcher and Podcast Producer of our “We Are Not Strangers Here: African American Histories in Rural California” project. She is also the Cathryn P. Gamble Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Communication at the University of California, San Diego where she earned her PhD. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from UC Riverside and a B.A. in American Literature and Culture from UCLA. Her work examines how the history of the American West is made and remade, particularly in California and especially in popular culture. Her public scholarship includes exhibits and media produced in collaboration with nonprofit organizations, museums, academic partners, and communities.

Cristel Jensen
Administrative Manager
Visalia, CA occupied, unceded Yokuts lands

Read More

Cristel is CIRS’ new organizational backbone, helping us with administrative systems and coordinating the Rural Justice Summit team. Cristel grew up surrounded by the mountains of the Sierra Gorda in San Luis de la Paz, Guanajuato, Mexico. Cristel immigrated to the US six years ago and while culture shock is still challenging to navigate, she doesn’t forget the indigeneity that was stolen from her ancestors during colonization in Mexico and claims, without shame, her mestizaje. As a survivor, Cristel has broken the chains of shame and silence by sharing her experience, honoring their duality, and modeling the values of Love WITH Accountability by honoring their intersectionalities and living with peace and dignity.

Dvera Saxton
Fresno, CA occupied, unceded Yokuts lands

Read More

Dvera I. Saxton, Ph.D. is a medical and environmental anthropologist based in the San Joaquin Valley. As a researcher with the California Institute for Rural Studies, she is supporting the COVID-19 farmworker study with qualitative study design and collaborative facilitation. This includes working with community-based organizations and researchers to engage with farmworkers about their lived experiences during the pandemic. This data supports agricultural workers and community based organizations in their efforts to promote systems and policy change. Dvera received her doctorate in anthropology, with an emphasis in race, gender, and social justice, from the American University in Washington, DC. She completed a postdoctoral research fellowship with the Social Science Environmental Health Institute at Northeastern University in Boston, MA and recently became an Atlantic Senior Fellow for Equity in Brain Health with the Global Brain Health Institute, based at UC San Francisco. Her book, The Devil’s Fruit: Farmworkers, Health and Environmental Justice is available from Rutgers University Press, and is based on environmental and health justice activist research she conducted with farmworker communities and their children, grandchildren, and educator allies in the Pájaro and Salinas Valleys in 2010-2013. She is also an associate professor in the anthropology department at Fresno State, where she teaches first generation undergraduate students.

Erika Ramirez-Mayoral
Project Manager
Santa Ana, CA occupied, unceded Tongva, Acjachemen, & Kizch lands

Read More

Erika is CIRS’ Eastern Coachella Valley Project Manager and is currently crafting tools for action from our ECV Household Health Survey. Erika is a Doctoral Candidate in the Department of Communication at UC San Diego, was raised in California border towns, Mexicali and El Centro, and grew up in Imperial and Coachella Valley on occupied, unceded Kumeyaay and Cahuilla lands . Before coming to CIRS and UC San Diego, she organized alongside young women and parents around education equity and co-founded Raices Girls and Women of Color Network, and Las Nepantleras in Coachella, CA. Her interdisciplinary scholarship and activist work explore the use of oral history and testimonio in social justice circles and community development in rural California.

Ildi Carlisle-Cummins
Executive Director
Santa Cruz Mountains, CA unceded territory of the Awaswas speaking people, currently stewarded by the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band

Read More

Ildi is the Executive Director of CIRS and has been with the organization for 7 years. She was the field manager for the Salinas/Pájaro Farm Worker Housing Study, supported research in the Eastern Coachella Valley and helped found the annual Rural Justice Summit in Merced. She also founded the Cal Ag Roots Project, which studies the history of California farming and tells stories about key moments in agriculture in the state. Ildi holds an M.S. in Community Development from UC Davis, where she also worked as a researcher, studying community food systems and California agriculture. She is the parent of a joyful, rambunctious kid and lives with her partner in the Santa Cruz Mountains, where she was born. Throughout her work in the food movement, Ildi’s approach always emphasizes partnership, bridge-building and justice.

Meet the CIRS Board

A-Dae Romero-Briones, J.D, LL.M.
First Nations Development Institute
Lodi, CA

Chris Benner, PhDSecretary
UC Santa Cruz Santa Cruz, CA

David RunstenTreasurer
Community Alliance with Family Farmers
Davis, CA

Ignacio Ornelas Rodriguez, PhD
Stanford University
Stanford, CA

J Jordan
Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability
Sacramento, CA

Juan de Lara

Juan De Lara, PhD
University of Southern California
Los Angeles, CA

Kassandra Hishida Vice-President
Community Alliance for Agro-Ecology
Fresno, CA

Megan Beaman Jacinto, JDPresident
Beaman Law
Coachella, CA

Oralia Maceda
Centro Binacional para el Desarollo Indígena Oaxaqueño Fresno, CA

Paola Ilescas
Latino Coalition for a Healthy California
North County San Diego, CA