Black Women of Brazil

The site dedicated to Brazilian women of African descent

A new view of the world: Affirmative action students on how the university environment has broadened their understanding of what it means to be black


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Note from BW of Brazil: Over the past four years, we’ve delved into the importance of Affirmative Action polices in broadening access of black students to attaining university level education as well as reactions by the society at large in relation to these policies and their results. What we’ve seen is that that part of Brazilian society that is at the top of the hierarchy and whose families have been there for many years are not happy seeing their maids’ daughters and those people who will always be remembered as descendants of slaves climbing the social ladder. One of the results of this is the fact that many of these people (Afro-Brazilians) after entering social circles once reserved for only Brazil’s whiter looking citizens are becoming more conscious of existing divisions within Brazilian society, many of which are indeed based upon race. Studies have shown how countless non-white Brazilians enter the university atmosphere as “morenos” or “morenas” or who saw themselves as ‘just Brazilians’ and after experiencing the reality of elitism and racial/social hierarchies end up graduating as black people. Today’s piece serves as yet another example of how university life plays a part in this development. 

A chat with affirmative action students at the University of Brasília

By Luiz H. Ferreira

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Lucas Santos, Letters student, 18. Photo: Luiz H. Ferreira

VICE: What changes have happened in your life after entering the university?

Lucas Santos: Wow! The first thing to change, I think is the view of the world. Before getting here, I had my head a little more closed; when you come here, you begin to co-exist with very different people, different places, different countries. A totally new universe. I think I’m a totally different person than I was.

Do you feel represented within the UnB?

I would say that a little, but I think there is still a lot to get to a level that [this representation] should be here. We see that segregation is very big here; sometimes even by silly jokes, but this is a very serious problem – and I don’t feel represented.

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Karine Neri, Architecture and Urbanism student, 23. Photo: Luiz H. Ferreira

Vice: What changes have happened in your life after entering UnB?

Karine Neri: So first, I live in Ceilândia [the periphery]. The first change is spatial, breaking the spatial segregation that we know exists. This was the first marked change: you start to come to this world every day. I, for example, came here and saw people who were like me, but I was not like them; at the time, I had not accepted my hair as it is, and I began to realize that something was wrong, I began to have this return to my identity. And UnB was fundamental for this, in order for me to accept and recognize myself as black. Not to mention access to information, identity, space and culture.

Do you feel represented within the university?

I don’t feel represented in my area, because the number of black professors is very small, and we’re starting with these discussions of arquitetura negra (black architecture): we don’t speak of black architecture here, we speak of modernist, modern, contemporary architecture. But black architecture we still don’t say: where is our cradle. Our cradle, nowadays, is only Portugal – and it’s over. I don’t feel represented, but we’re getting there – for being a woman, being black and living in Ceilândia.

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Arthur Henrique, student of Social Communication with specialization in Audiovisual and Advertising, 24. Photo: Luiz H. Ferreira

VICE: What changes have happened since you entered UnB?

Arthur Henrique: I lost my job because UnB consumes a lot of time, and this is my life: I had to repeat due to missing too many classes because UnB is far [laughs]. I was pissed, pissed a lot more. I was a much calmer man.

Do you feel represented within the university?

I don’t feel represented. The very project of quotas was a long-term project: my generation and the generations that came before mine, in relation to quotas, in relation to UnB, they won’t be able to feel represented; but in the long run, perhaps 10 or more years, it may come more evident – to the point  that the very idea of ​​quotas no longer being necessary and can be dissolved. But I don’t have any black professor; I have few black colleagues in my classes. I think I’ve already had four other black people [as classmates]. See that I’ve been in quite a few classes because I do three qualifications; so the representation is a far cry.

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Ludmila Alexander, Architecture student, 23. Photo: Luiz H. Ferreira

VICE: What changes have quotas brought to your life?

Ludmila Alexander: When I entered through the quota system, I felt the responsibility to enter into any kind of discussion related to race and color. I feel responsible to go there and get involved.

I ended up not using the system before, because I thought, “Oh, there are fewer vacancies.” Because when you begin to acquaint yourself, you see that the quantity of vacancies is very small. When I went, I wanted to encourage people in my family to get in also: I have several cousins ​​who haven’t gone to college.

Do you feel represented in the university?

I felt much less represented when I was studying Administration; here, at FAU, I feel a little more, people are more engaged in some issues: feminism, racism. And I see more presence of black people in here; then I believe that I feel represented, yes.

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Rodrigo Silva, Administration student, 20. Photo: Luiz H. Ferreira

VICE: What changes have quotas brought to your life?

Rodrigo Silva: UnB opened me many doors in the labor market, people look at me in a different (way) now.

Do you feel represented at the university?

In high school, always heard that UnB only had playboys, whites from Marist (high school), [from  Leonardo] Da Vinci (school), but from the inclusion of quotas and amplification, what I heard was totally changed. I see many blacks and I feel represented.

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Tricia Oliveira, graduated in Journalism (UNIP), 28. Photo: Luiz H. Ferreira

VICE: What changes have quotas brought to your life?

Tricia Oliveira: I went to college because of quotas, but at a private university. Much has changed: from the technical knowledge, to having a profession and power – to having access to higher education, I think that changes the view of the world, life, [becoming] more critical – being able to occupy spaces that before I not hold and they didn’t allow me. When I studied in my class there were only two black people.

Do you feel represented in the university?

I had no representation. I studied at a private university, I think that the reality is somewhat different: we don’t have so many opportunities, projects that help people to see this representation, but I think I could do good work and in my academic background, there’s a necessity to represent as a black, overweight woman, as all of these; then, these issues were always related to my work in my university experience.

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Greicielle Viera, student of Forestry Engineering, 22. Photo: Luiz H. Ferreira

VICE: What changes have quotas brought to your life?

Greicielle Viera: My life changed after I entered the university, but not because I entered by quotas: [the university] fully opens your mind to various issues of society and, finally, makes you think, form opinions.

Do you feel represented in the university?

Man, I think, after the quota system was implemented, the face of the university changed a lot, you can see that there are many blacks here inside.

About me feeling represented, in truth, I don’t know how to respond; in my course, there is a very elitist crowd, but it’s not why I don’t feel represented, because here there are many faces, many ideas; so there is always a little for you to identify with. I represent myself, the one who represents me is me.

Source: Vice

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