Note from BW of Brazil: At best, I can call this situation unfortunate. At worst, I would say it was willful irresponsibility. I first became aware of Dr. Joana D’Arc Felix de Sousa a few years back. Her story of overcoming poverty to becoming a patent holding scientist with numerous awards and accolades was and continues to be an inspiration for other black Brazilian women who face enormous odds of reaching such academic and career heights as she has.
The last report on Dr. De Sousa I carried on this blog was actually more about actress Taís Araújo stepping down from starring as the doctor in a biopic after criticism that her skin was too light to portray the scientist. But then this week, another story broke about De Sousa that I initially didn’t believe to be true. Top newspapers were reporting that the professor’s post-grad degree from Harvard University was a fake and that she had never attended the prestigious American university. When De Sousa responded and said she hadn’t lie, I thought the whole would be resolved and her name would be cleared.
Unfortunately, that’s not what happened. What I gather now is that the newspaper investigations were actually true, but it seems that De Sousa is having troubling admitting that she did in fact lie about her story, and as it turns out, not only about Harvard. As the scrutiny of her career intensified, De Sousa then suggested that racism had something to do with the controversy, a position a few people I know supported.
My position is, this site does and will continue to cover racism in Brazilian society, but in this particular case, I cannot support the claim of racism which De Sousa suggested, perhaps to deflect away from the fact that she got busted in misrepresentations that she should have taken the initiative to correct. Dr. De Sousa’s academic record and achievements were already more than impressive to the point that she didn’t need to falsify her achievements. Of course, having the name Harvard on one’s resume would be a huge honor, but after the exposure of the lie, the university’s name is bringing her more embarrassment than it was worth.
Brazilian society is one that regularly discriminates against its black citizens and then denies it and accuses its victims of “playing the victim” or simply “whining”. By playing the “race card” when it doesn’t apply, Dr. De Sousa’s mistake simply adds fuel to those who automatically dismiss charges of racism even when they are obviously true. This whole thing didn’t need to happen, but when the press started coming to focus the spotlight on her, particularly the supposed Harvard connection, the award-winning scientist could have just straightened out her record before it got to this point.
The job of a journalist is to investigate and get the facts, expose the truth or the lie, whatever trail the investigation leads to. In this case, the trail led to a lie, which Dr. De Sousa seems to be having trouble admitting. And in this case, racism had very little, if anything to do with it.
Scientist Joana D’Arc Felix, whose life will become a film, has a fake Harvard diploma, newspaper says
History of researcher will become a production produced by Globo Filmes
Professor Joana D’Arc Félix de Sousa, 55, has been known in recent years for her history of overcoming. She announced that she had entered college at the age of fourteen and completed a postdoctoral fellowship at Harvard in the United States. However, the newspaper O Estado de S. Paulo points out that Joana has never been to the American university.
The researcher has received several awards in recent years and recently, Globo Filmes has announced that it will produce a film telling the story of Joana, who comes from a humble family in the interior of São Paulo state.
In 2017, the Estadão newspaper interviewed the scientist and she reported having spent two years at Harvard. The report asked for a copy of the postdoctoral document to prove the training and sent the file to the university. Shortly thereafter, the institution reported that it did not issue certificates for this type of training and warned of a spelling error on paper: it was written “oof” instead of “of”.
In the supposed diploma, there are two signatures. One is by Harvard Chemistry Professor Emeritus Richard Hadley Holm, who was e-mailed and said, “The certificate is fake. This is not my signature, I was not the department head back then. I’ve never heard of Professor Sousa.”
In her Lattes curriculum (online CV platform), produced by the researcher herself, it’s published that she received a scholarship from the Coordination for the Improvement of Higher Education Personnel (CAPES), an agency of the Ministry of Education (MEC). Capes also denied the existence of Joana’s name in its system.
This week, the Estado de S. Paulo newspaper returned to interview Joana and questioned her about the diplomacy. The researcher said that the document was made for a “theater staging” and that she did not complete the post-doctoral degree and has no certificate. “The girls sent it along (with others) when the reporter asked me for documents. I thought: I have to tell this to the journalist, but I didn’t talk to him anymore,” she explains.
In addition, she countered the first interview and said that she did not live abroad, saying that everything was done in the distance: she would have only talked to a supervisor there. The research was developed in Brazil. “I put it on the Lattes, I don’t know if it’s right or wrong.”
De Sousa admitted that she never did research at Harvard University and classified the inclusion of this information in her curriculum Lattes and in several interviews as “an error,” but denied that she acted in bad faith.
“We get excited and end up talking too much. It’s an error, I apologize, it’s a mistake,” she told the Folha de S.Paulo newspaper. “The people (who did the false document) got it from the internet… no way did I try to fake the diploma,” she says.
Regarding the training, the researcher actually did the undergraduate, master’s and doctorate in the area of Chemistry at the State University of Campinas (Unicamp). However, the date of enrollment at the university is 1983, when he was 19, not 14 as previously reported. Asked about the report, she said that she entered at 18, but reaffirms that she was approved for the first time in the entrance exam at 14.
The professor says she even received an invitation to be a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard in 1994, when she finished her doctorate at the State University of Campinas (Unicamp), but she didn’t accept it because her sister and her father died at that time and later, because her mother faced health problems. Therefore, she says that she developed the project in Brazil under the guidance of a Harvard professor, William Klemperer, who died in 2017.
“I considered (as a postdoc) the guidance I received from Professor William Klemperer,” she said. “I was discussing the project, I went to his lab a few times, but I was never a student because I could not go away for long because of my mother’s health problems.
She states that both the invitation to study at Harvard and most of the orientation were made over the phone and that she didn’t keep any records. Harvard reported finding no evidence that Joanna received a degree from the institution, but did not respond whether the teacher actually received an offer to be a university student or received some kind of guidance from Klemperer.
A post-doctoral fellowship is usually an internship or research activity carried out within a university for which you are already a doctor, but it is not a title for which you are awarded a degree. Unicamp confirms that Joana has undergraduate, masters and doctorates in the institution according to the dates included in her Lattes curriculum, between 1983 and 1994.
Folha de S.Paulo, which published a report on the researcher in 2018, is reviewing the information on her CV and reports, including her age, which was stated differently to different interviewers (48 to Folha in 2018, 55 to Estado, 39 in an interview and in social networks). The differences raised the doubts of the Estado reporter and motivated his investigation. On Facebook, Joan D’Arc wrote that people need to be careful about “published untruths.”
Joana also says she fears that the episode will affect her work as a professor at a public school in the interior of São Paulo.
“I helped get a lot of people out of prostitution and drugs, that work can not be thrown in the trash can,” she says.
A film about her life is scheduled to be produced by Globo Filmes. Joana says she was approached by director Alê Braga, scheduled to direct the feature after the Estado report was published, but didn’t discuss the future of the project.
“He called to give me strength,” she says.
Sought for a report, Globo Filmes did not express itself until the publication of this report. In addition to altering her curriculum, the researcher apparently erased her social networking profile.
De Sousa, released a note on Wednesday admitting that she had never been a student at Harvard University, contrary to what she had said, and changed her Lattes curriculum. Now it reports that the postdoc was “interrupted” in 1998 and there is no scholarship information. In the text, however, the professor says that the newspaper O Estado de S. Paulo wants to “denigrate” her image.
“Everything that has been published is already being determined by a lawyer linked to the black Brazilian movement, because I’m sure they are still thinking that blacks still have to live in the senzala (slave quarters),” says the professor’s note. “I don’t have the postdoctoral degree completed and so I don’t have the diploma, much less a false diploma.”
According to the professor of Physics and Chemistry at USP, Paulo Sergio Santos, the area of Klemperer “had absolutely nothing to do” with what Joana researches. For Santos, because of the competition for vacancies, the chance of a researcher from a different area of the adviser being invited is “almost zero”.
Further clarifying the controversy, the professor granted an interview to Veja magazine.
What is the story behind the image of the diploma?
I don’t have a post-doctoral degree [at Harvard] because I came back earlier. I went there a few times, but I had many orientations from a distance. When the journalist from Estadão came in the second half of 2017, he took several photos and I had done a performance, in which we presented several diplomas. Then I saw that he had a copy of it and I told him ‘that there is not valid’, and he kept it, then in 2017. I also recently said that that diploma was not real. It was made for a performance.
At what age did you start college?
I passed the entrance exam when I was 14 years old. What happened was that I could not go, I would not have the conditions, so I studied later. I went in the first moment, but then I came back. TED, for example, is a small thing. You have to talk for 17, 20 minutes. You can’t talk in detail.
Would you be able to prove you passed through Harvard?
Yes, I did orientations at a distance, I have the patent of this research done with these guidelines [the professor committed to send the records].
Did you lie about your story?
I did not lie. I may not have explained it correctly. But I did not lie at any moment.
In our first interview, you said that you finished your doctorate [at Unicamp] at the age of 23. Is this true?
No, this is not the case, it is not true.
Are you afraid that this story will harm your career?
I do a very important job. Taking a young person out of vulnerability is priceless. I work with several young people. You can’t mess up the work I’ve done. I have this legacy of working exclusively with young people in (situations of) social vulnerability. With research and science, I transform lives of people who had no future perspective. This legacy will not be erased.
Your lectures are about a trajectory of overcoming and winning at Harvard. Is that not in check?
I had guidance from a distance. We get excited and end up talking too much. But there’s the lesson for us to police ourselves. The legacy that I built, of reducing school dropout, of social transformation, of getting children out of drug trafficking and prostitution, I don’t think it will be erased.