Note from BW of Brazil: Over the years, I can remember the debates over the system of quotas that would open the doors to allow more Afro-Brazilian students to have access to something that has been out of their reach for decades: a college education. Year after year, fierce debates on race brought to the fore the issue that Brazil had so long steadfastly denied being an issue in the country. “Allowing quota students would lower the standards of the university”, they said. But year after year, quota test scores and grades have been as good as or in some cases, better than non-quota students. “Brazil is so mixed, how will we know whois black and who is not?” they asked. And although it is true that sometimes it really is difficult to define some Brazilians as black or white, in recent years, we’ve seen a phenomenon that I would have never expected: CLEARLY physically white students defining themselves as black, or brown, in order to take their places in university programs. I guess their logic is, if you can’t beat ’em (by ending the quota system), join ’em.
The Ethics of the Quotas
At least eight federal universities are targeted for scams where white applicants declare themselves black to secure enrollment in disputed courses. How do you ensure that the vacancies are filled by those who are entitled?
By Camila Brandalise
White, blond and light-eyed, Vinicius Loures, 23, earned a place in the Medicine program at the Federal University of Minas Gerais (UFMG) when he declared himself black. After his case surfaced, along with those of other students who had benefited from the quota system to enter college, Loures said he would leave the course and study to re-enter – next time, in a legitimate way. Meanwhile, he prefers not to pronounce himself: “Now it’s the ball forward that I have a lot of work to solve this situation,” he said. In Minas Gerais, besides the UFMG, cases of fraud are known in the Federal University of Viçosa (UFV) and in the Federal University of Uberlândia (UFU).
At least five other institutions, in different Brazilian states, are involved in similar processes. Established by law in 2012, the quota system obliges federal universities to allocate a percentage of vacancies for pretos (blacks), pardos (brown/mixed) and indigenous people proportional to the demographic representation in each state. In 2016, the number of places for social and racial quotas was already higher than for direct competition, narrowing the chances of candidates. With the measure already crystallized socially and legally, the challenge is to ensure the benefit for those for whom the law was created. But how do you guarantee the legitimacy of the system?
Whoever enrolls by quotas for a course of Higher Education makes a self-declaration of race. It is the candidate himself who will say whether he/she is white, black or brown. “Trusting people has always been the best way,” says Marcelo Paixão, coordinator of the Laboratory of Economic, Historical, Social and Statistics Analysis of Racial Relations (Laeser) at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ) and professor at the University of Texas at Austin (USA). “But in the face of the moment we live in, where the mere statute of self-declaration can open the door for subversion of what is in the law, I think there should be an interview.”
After denouncing UFMG, the institution said it will adopt more stringent measures for 2018, including a commission to follow affirmative action policies. The committee will follow the example of other institutions that curb irregularities. In January, the Federal University of Paraná (UFPR) set up a bench to verify the candidates’ self-declaration of being preto or pardo. Of the 571 people convened, about 50 did not attend and 81 had their registration rejected by the commission.
The creation of benches to verify self-declaration has been mandatory in public competitions since 2016. The Ministry of Planning, Development and Management advises that whoever chooses to compete for a seat through the system of racial quotas will have to go through the analysis of a commission that will evaluate the phenotypic aspects – that is, the appearance of the candidate. For Paixão, the definition of race is far from simple and direct, but to believe in the myth of Brazilian miscegenation and in the discourse of the impossibility of defining who is black or white gives margin for opportunism.
“Race is something captured within society, which hierarchizes it, gives more opportunities to one than to another,” he says. “The quota policy is not based on anything but a social practice.” At the Federal University of Pelotas (UFPel), 26 students were expelled in December 2016 after a commission investigated the veracity of self-declaration. “We created a commission that concluded that these people declared themselves black but would not have the phenotype,” says Alexandre Gastal, advisor to UFPel’s rectory. “Half of them have been able to go back to university judicially, and lawsuits are still ongoing. And ten other people were summoned to fill vacant positions,” says Gastal. The commission is now permanent.
There are institutions that are still crawling on this issue, and in these places, students and teachers take the reins of the investigation. At the Federal University of Bahia (UFBA), the Committee Against Fraud in Racial Quotas was created in May of this year and has already delivered some 30 complaints to the rectory, which until now has not taken a position on the cases. Without an institutional response, the group appealed to the Public Prosecution Service.
For student Samira Soares, 22, a member of the committee, frauds are visible in the daily life of the university. “As an activist, I usually talk about racism. There are white people who know that they have declared themselves black in enrollment and who, at the time of the debate in the classroom, deny the struggle of black people. It is opportunism,” she says. Alex Vasques, 28, also of the committee, intends to build a national network that guarantees the effectiveness of quotas. “I’m black and I cannot pass for white in any environment. Why is the opposite allowed to occur?”
X-ray of the question
150,000 black students entered federal institutions between 2013 and 2015, according to the latest estimate released by the Ministry of Education (MEC)
45.5% of young pretos and pardos between 18 and 24 years old attend Higher Education. In 2004, this figure was 16.7%
8.8% is the percentage of jovens negros (black youth – young pretos + pardos) who attend or have completed Higher Education. In 1997, it was 1.8%
114.5 thousand places were reserved for quotas in the first half of 2016, 1,500 more than those destined for free competition
50% of the vacancies in all Brazilian federal universities (59) and federal institutes of education (25) should be destined to socio-racial quotas