Note from BW of Brazil: The debate, or some would say argument, over affirmative action policies in Brazil has raged on for more than a decade now. Against all fallacious arguments that allowing students to enter college through a system of quotas would lower the overall quality of Brazil’s best universities, studies show that Brazil’s “cotistas” (affirmative action students) perform as well and in some cases better than non-quota students. The opportunity to get an education has changed the lives of thousands of students who simply needed the opportunity to prove that they could perform as well as anyone else at the university level. Adding to the controversy in an on-going debate that still generates heated debates, Brazil’s most important, most influential newspaper, Folha de S.Paulo, recently threw another log into the fire of the debate by creating a controversial anti-quota public announcement using using a black woman to defend the paper’s anti-quota stance. Today, we feature the achievement of one student who has proven why the program has been such a success. In sharing a bit of her story, she also reveals how many in Brazil are not afraid to voice their opposition to the presence of black students in areas of higher education, a place believed to be the domain of whiter faces. But for us, her success, shows exactly why education should be put in the reach of all who want to attend.
Affirmative Action student, winner of “Inventor Award” at UFBa
by Anderson Souto
In the first semester in the Farmácia Generalista (Pharmacy Generalist) course at the Federal University of Bahia, in 2008, the student Emily Karle dos Santos Conceição, 23, was surprised by the reaction of a professor. “I was silent and everyone in the room was talking. One entered the room and said, ‘Emily, I only hear your voice.’ I replied saying that I was silent. Then she told me ‘your presence is enough.’ I never forgot this,” the student who is black and a cotista (affirmative action student) told Correio Nagô.
About to graduate, Emily reports that her trajectory as a cotista in one of the largest universities in the Northeast was not easy. “I mean I was quiet and she gives me a lecture saying that my presence was already too much. This was just one case. There is also a lot of institutional racism. It seems like we don’t exist, but when we demonstrate competence people are forced to tolerate us,” she adds.
And it was with study and effort that the student says she changed the situation. On October 18th, 2012, Emily was awarded the “Prêmio Inventor: Ufba Homenageia seus Inventores” (Inventor Award: Ufba Honors its Inventors). In the disclosure, it was announced by the staff of the university how “as one of the many cotista students responsible for the success of the Affirmative Action policy implemented by the university approximately 10 years ago.”
In its 4th edition, the award made a tribute to the student by the filing of the patent entitled “Uso da Amêndoa de Bombacopis retusa, como potencial matéria-prima para fins alimentícios, cosmético, farmacêutico e de obtenção de biodiesel” (Use of the almond of bombacopis retusa as potential raw materials for food, cosmetic, pharmaceutical and biodiesel production), realized in 2011.
“The award is related to patents that have economic viability. The patent that I developed is related to the use of an oil from a nut there from Chapada Diamantina (1). Our intention is that companies, especially cosmetics and biodiesel, can use this nut,” she says.
The aim is also to enhance the semi arid regions of Bahia communities that suffer from deforestation. “If companies want to reuse, they will have to plant more nut trees and because of the desertification that has occurred they will have the appreciation of the community. Interestingly, we were not there to pick the nut. It was the community itself that indicated to us to use it,” she adds.
A trainee Permancer scholarship program at the Instituto de Saúde Coletiva (ISC or Institute of Public Health), and resident of the Mata Escura neighborhood, Emily emphasizes the importance of the awards. “As a student it meant the substantiation of my work. Permanecer helped me quite a bit. Additionally, this award has shown that what is lacking is opportunity because we had opportunities and we did it. My award is just one example of how it could be greater. If the black and poor community has opportunity, it benefits. If we have the opportunity to grow, we will grow. We don’t throw it away,” says the student who is the daughter of self-employed father and a hairdresser mother.
For her, quotas are an example of the opportunity to grow. “Quotas enabled many black and poor (people) to have the opportunity to study and show that we can do. Whoever is thirsty and wants to drink water doesn’t throw it up,” she says.
“Quotas are a right of reparation that took a long time to occur and not a favor. A right that has been denied for too long and now we have the possibility of taking our place that is by right,” she adds.
However, Emily points out that, despite the odds, the scenario has not changed much in Ufba. “The Pharmacy course, even with quotas, the areas of technology and especially medicine has not changed the panorama. I am the only black woman of the graduates of 2013 in my course,” she says. According the students, incentives for black and poor students to stay in the university should be expanded.
Questioned if she feels different from the others for being cotista, the student responds that “the secret” is to show competence. “I don’t feel (different). From the beginning, when we get in, we take a blow from the professor who says that your presence is already enough. But after that I studied and showed my competence. I demonstrated responsibility and pro-activity. From there it got better. Regarding the academy they had to literally swallow me. We have to behave..Not to think that they gave me the quota. We achieved it and we have to demonstrate for people to see,” she says.
1. Chapada Diamantina is a region in the center of the state of Bahia, in Northeastern Brazil.
Source: Correio Nagô