Affirmative Action has already placed a half million Afro-Brazilians into universities
by Letícia Casado
Affirmative Action has placed about 500,000 Afro-Brazilians into universities according to the SEPPIR (Secretaria de Políticas de Promoção da Igualdade Racial/Secretariat for the Promotion of Racial Equality), an entity equivalent to a ministry of the federal government. Martvs Alves Antonio das Chagas, secretary of the Affirmative Action policy of Seppir reveals that approximately 90,000 students enrolled by the racial quota system in federal, state and local institutions of higher education.
Education specialists agree with affirmative action policies for specific groups, but are skeptical about the effects of racial quotas for society and for the student. They affirm that people should not be discussing only the question of race, but a deeper insertion of the general population into higher education. Affirmative action policies are measures taken to reduce social inequalities, and in the case of universities, include racial quotas, indigenous, other refugees, the ProUni (Programa Universidade Para Todos or University for All Program) and the bonus on entrance exam scores (earn points in the selection process ), for example.
Stela Piconez, a professor of Education at USP (University of São Paulo), supports the reservation of places for the inclusion of low-income people in public universities. She says that are not only black, “but millions of Brazilians who need to study.”
“I am in favor of the quota in public universities for socioeconomically underprivileged and unprotected people; for that student who made it through primary and secondary school in the public sector and had no access to the library. Those who attend public school end up at private universities, and whoever attends private school goes to the public university. That has to change.”
Today, about 90 educational institutions have affirmative action policies and quotas are included in this group, says the secretary. According to him, in the first half of 2009, about 600,000 students entered into universities through ProUni, and of these, 250,000 were of Afro-Brazilian.
Gustavo Andifes, executive secretary of Andifes (Associação dos Dirigentes das Universidades e Institutos Federaisor Association of Leaders of Universities and Federal Institutes), says that he is in favor of a plural policy of quotas for the entire country. For him, it is important that each institution defines its affirmative action project “within a specific social context.”
“(The state of) Rio Grande do Sul is different from (the state of) Bahia and (the state of) Pará The main goal is always to promote the inclusion of social sectors that were hindered: it may be the Indian in the Amazon, the woman in Alagoas, the graduate of the public school in Rio de Janeiro. There are at least 30 different forms of insertion.”
Whoever defends the racial quota, irrespective of other social policies, is asking for compensation for the “historical distortion” of the treatment given to blacks during the construction of Brazilian society. Secretary Chagas says racism is still strong in Brazil, and black access to quality education is one of the few tools that allow one to change this scenario.
“You must give a chance to people who, simply by being black, are excluded from the labor market and school.”
Professor Stela states that universities have failed to properly prepare to receive students with disabilities in education. She said many cotistas (1) – “regardless of skin color” – arrive without prior knowledge of the literature, math or reading comprehension and thus end up feeling discouraged and abandon college.
Chagas doesn’t agree with this view: in his view, a place at a public university can be the “only chance” in the life of a quota student.
Balduíno, of Andifes, has criticized the project of the Statute of Racial Equality, which provides 50% of places in public universities for blacks. He defends the idea that each learning center define which kind of reservation of vacancy it will ensure and the extension of these quotas, be they racial, economic or social.
“The affirmative action will grow while inequalities in Brazil will continue to exist. But they can not be an end; they can be a means. The end is equality, [the offering] of basic education and quality for all.”