Black Women of Brazil

The site dedicated to Brazilian women of African descent

Brazil’s first and only black university graduates its first class of Law students



Afro Brazilian women
 Marilene de Mello is part of the first class of law graduates at Unipalmares 

The student Marilene de Mello was chosen to take the vow of students in the graduation of the first cohort to graduate from law school at the Zumbi dos Palmares University (Unipalmares) in São Paulo. Almost 90% of the students at the institution of higher learning self-identifies as African descendants, and will promote this Friday (14), in the Latin America Memorial, the graduation of 70 law graduates.

For Marilene, 47, law school was an opportunity to win a new academic formation and promote, with other students of their ethnicity, new possibilities of struggle for blacks and the right to education in Brazil. Minority rights and social justice theory are some of the subjects she learned in the course. “The law in Brazil is used as an instrument of domination,” said Marilene, who has a degree in accounting from PUC-SP. “This course has shown that we can use the courts not as domination, but as a right to freedom.”

“The law in Brazil is used as an instrument of domination, and the course showed us that we can use the courts as a right to freedom.”- Marilene de Mello, graduate of Law at Unipalmares

It has taken five years for the graduation of this first class of Law at Unipalmares. The university reserves 50% of its vacancies to students that self-identify as black, and also has students of other ethnicities. The law school Unipalmares was launched in 2007, the year that the university graduated its first class in the course of administration. The monthly fee of R$315 (US$157) allowed low-income students to attend its law school.

Manoel Bonfim dos Santos will be the valedictorian
The student Manoel Bonfim dos Santos, 51, will be the valedictorian. He explained to G1 he had already tried other colleges, but ended up giving up because of feeling like a minority in the class. “I started doing chemical engineering, not undeserving of the college, but there was a certain different look because I’m black. I was a minority, in order not to say that I was the only one. I felt this difficulty of coexistence.”

Santos points out that in his class the vast majority are black students, but there is no discrimination among students. “We have excellent teachers and students, blacks and whites.”

The eldest of the group is Cecilia Maria dos Santos, 75. Having a degree in pedagogy, she was a school director and saw up close the black students’ difficulties in getting a spot in a good college. “I witnessed very good students who could not enter the USP because the family could not afford a prep school,” she says.

Marilene de Mello, Sonia Alves dos Santos and Fabiola Miyashiro are graduates of the Law program
Maria Cecilia says she decided to take the course because of its social proposal. “I identified with the project that the college had. In other institutions I could not find people of my ethnicity, and that worried me a lot.”

She said the law requiring federal universities to allocate 50% of the vacancies for public school students is an indication that something is wrong. “If there is investment in basic education, literacy, over time it will no longer be necessary to have this quota system. Families will give new opportunities for their children. A few decades from now our children will be in good schools, education in the country will be better and parents will have more consciousness of their importance in assisting in this training.”

The dean of Unipalmares, José Vicente  
The dean of Unipalmares, José Vicente, notes that “this graduation is an expression of how much this theme and forms of inclusion developed in society and how it has reacted to the mechanism of conduction in this subject.” He said three students have passed the Exame da Ordem dos Advogados do Brasil (Bar Association of Brazil Exam), which entitles the graduate to practice law.

The class will sponsor the President of the Federal Supreme Court (STF), minister Ayres Britto. Vice President Michel Temer will also participate in the ceremony, among other authorities. Besides the choice of Ayres Britto as patron of the class, Vicente notes that the university made contact with another STF minister, Joaquim Barbosa, who is black, but it was not possible to secure his attendance. “We would like the Minister Joaquim Barbosa to be with us. I think it is an expression of possibility for black youth in the country”, says the dean. “More than being capable is to work with this responsibility, quality and seriousness.”

The Unipalmares began operations in 2004 and currently has 1,700 students. It offers courses in business, law, education, advertising, technology and land transport. The complete name of the college is the Faculdade Zumbi dos Palmares and is named for Zumbi of Palmares, the last, greatest and most celebrated leaders of all of Brazil’s quilombos (in the northeastern state of Alagoas), runaway slave societies where inhabitants erected their own communities. Today, is honor of Zumbi, there are countless black organizations named in his memory and he is unquestionably the most important symbol of black consciousness in the country. Read more about Zumbi here.

In the past few years, Unipalmares also formed student exchange partnerships with American colleges like Medgar Evers College in New York City and Xavier University in Louisiana with the goal of creating a research nucleus as well making accessible courses in human rights, politics and Affirmative Action. For 2013 Unipalmares has already been authorized by MEC (Ministry of Education) technologists to offer courses in human resources and finance. The next project is to create the engineering program. “We want to train engineers, it’s a career in which this Afro descendant public is not present,” says Dean. “And it’s an area that demands many professionals.”

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