UFRB, the second largest university in black majority state of Bahia, graduates its first mostly black medicine class; an historic moment, photo goes viral online

Medicina Preta - primeira turma de médicos da UFRB entra para a história

Note from BW of Brazil: I can’t stress enough how huge this is. When I first saw this photo over a month ago, I immediately the power and signficance. In Brazil, it has long been a challenge for black Brazilians to manage to attain a college education. It was always a sort of a distant dream that black families had that maybe, one day, their children or grandchildren would be able to put on a cap and gown, walk across a stage and receive a degree for all of their hard work and dedication in succeeding in an institution of higher learning. 

The racial hierarchy is still in full swing and very apparent throughout Brazilian society.

Go to any office building and you’re sure to see a lot of black people working in cleaning services. Go to malls and you see black women picking up trays, cleaning tables and emptying the trash in the food courts. Watch and see who picks up garbage on trash collection days and you’ll see mostly black men. It is weaved without the very structure of the country. So, when people go to nice neighborhoods and knock on the doors of the houses, they expect to see white faces and bodies occupying these homes. There’s simply no way to deny the stereotype. In Brazil, there is a place ‘reserved’ for black people and another place reserved for white people. 

This hierarchy has not disappeared, but in the past decade and a half, we have seen some noticeable changes as Afro-Brazilians have managed to make some progress. I don’t want to make this seem as if things have completely changed becuase, according to various studies, at the current pace, it would still take decades for black Brazilians to be on par with the standard of living of Brazilians who classify themselves as white.

For example, one study from 2015 studied the salary diferences between blacks and whites in the 20-year period from 1995-2015 and concluded that, at that pace, salaries between blacks and whites would only reach equality by the year 2089. In 2015, the average salary of white Brazilians was BRL$1.589 em comparação to R$898 for black Brazilians. In other words, blacks earned about 56% of the salary of whites. These inequalities show up again and again in nearly every area of importance that measures quality of life in Brazil.  

Access to higher learning is another area where these disaparities were most obvious. These disparities in access to a college education didn’t begin to change in any significant numbers until the inplementation of the affirmative action quota system in the early years of the 2000s. Although college was still a long shot for the Brazilian population as a whole, by 2007, young white students were still twice as likely to go to college as non-whites. That year, 5.6% of young white students over the age of 16 went to college while for young black people, the percentage was half, at 2.8%. The long shot of ever making it to college could really be seen just 10 years prior to that, in 1997, with 3% of whites making it to the university while only 1% of black youth managed to get there. 

So, if just getting to college was and is considered a miracle for Afro-Brazilians, imagine the possibility of being able to enter, and even more miraculously, manage to complete a prestigious course such as medicine. With the quota system making it possible for tens of thousands of black Brazilians to get to college, the more prestigious courses were still dominated by white students. In areas such as medicine and architecture, for example, for every 16 and 12 white students in these respective courses, only one black student was enrolled for these courses. Black students were nearly as outnumbered in courses such as finance, engineering and agronomy, while their entry into areas such as history and the social sciences saw them still outnumbered, but only 4 and 3 to 1 in these areas.

Looking at these odds are what makes the graduation of this group all the more noteworthy. For years, and even still today, Brazil still doesn’t expect to see black students on college campuses in large quantities, but if they are there, it is still expected that they would remain in a certain place. If a black woman is a professor at a university, it is expected that she’ll be professor of African Studies or something similar, but not physics. In the piece below, we see elements of this attitude that says that black people aren’t supposed to wear white jackets and stethoscopes, but this group held strong and in doing so, made an entire community proud. It goes without saying, it is these types of black students who the current administration clearly doesn’t want to see cross the finish line anymore

Congratulations are in order for these 12 students who overcame the odds.

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10 of 12 recent graduates of UFRB medical program pose for photo

Bahia’s second largest university, UFRB graduates its first mostly black medicine class

Created 12 years ago, the Federal University of Recôncavo da Bahia recently graduated its first medical class. Considered the second largest university in Bahia and the blackest in Brazil, the class has 80% of self-declared black graduates.

“UFRB is part of the Lula administration’s legacy. This is what those in power now want to destroy. Because a young black man graduating in medicine is an act of resistance. Congratulations on your victory!” says the message posted on former President Lula’s Twitter page. The university was established during the process of internalization of higher education initiated in the government of former President Lula.

The publication also referred to education cuts made during the current Bolsonaro government that threaten the institution’s functioning.

After Lula’s election, five more were created – Universidade Federal do Recôncavo Baiano (UFRB), Universidade da Integração Internacional da Lusofonia Afro-Brasileira (Unilab), Universidade Federal do Oeste da Bahia, Universidade Federal do Sul da Bahia, Universidade Federal do Vale do São Francisco, with 18 internalized university campuses being created throughout Bahia.

medicina preta- jonas, LULA, UFRB
Former President Lula da Silva and professor of Portuguese, Jonas Di Andrade were among those celebrating the milestone

Lula
✔ @ LulaOfficial

UFRB is part of the Lula administration’s legacy. This is what those in power now want to destroy. Because a young black man graduating in medicine is an act of resistance. Congratulations for the victory! #equipeLula https://twitter.com/jonasdiandrade/status/1169931778494205953 …

Jonas@jonasdiandrade

First graduating class with degrees in Medicine from the Universidade Federal do Recôncavo da Bahia, the second largest public university in Bahia and the blackest university in Brazil. If this is not a milestone, I don’t know what it is. #Ubuntu

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Recent graudates of Universidade Federal do Recôncavo da Bahia medical program

Black Medicine: Significance of the moment is reflected in struggles of the students as well as Brazilian atitudes that medicine is off limits to blacks

Photo of 12 black graduates viralized on social networks in recent weeks

The cradle of medicine in Brazil and a state with a mostly preto e pardo (black and brown) population, Bahia has never graduated as many black doctors in one class as now. The graduation of the students with a Medical degree from the Universidade Federal do Recôncavo da Bahia (UFRB), on August 29, is unprecedented, not only for the institution, but also in the history of Brazilian higher education.

In a photo that went viral on social networks, 12 students – 41% of graduates – pose with their arms crossed. For some, the milestone represented in the image is mistaken for a deviation in history, but the new chapter is symbolic; it undermines a tradition that is alien to the diversity of profiles, and has an unprecedented impact on the area of health in the state.

“Being from the first class brings the ‘weight’ of taking the ‘face’ of UFRB with me. The mission is to let people know about the university and the quality of the medical school in the job market,” says Keline Carvalho, 27, from Amargosa, recently hired in her birthland.

For days, the image in question ran through profiles of anonymous and public people, like the Twitter account of former President Lula.

Keline already has a master’s degree and specialization and is in a group on WhatsApp, with black colleagues. In it, they share information useful to their medical careers. The dialogue between the new doctors has generated job opportunities. Some got contracts and then referred their colleagues.

“We have a group on WhatsApp to strengthen ourselves and exchange experiences,” writes Lícia Reis, 29, born in Santo Antônio de Jesus and a doctor in Iaçu. At five, she dreamed of being a doctor. She started working at 15, as a manicurist and, during college, managed to work while studying.

At the beginning of the undergraduate course, she says, there was a congress in which a professor spoke about the racial profile of the UFRB medical school. The audience listening to the professor appeared visibly uncomfortable. “The feeling was that we black students were ‘dirtying up medicine’. From then on, I would have to prove all the time that I was capable of becoming a doctor,” she says.

Episodes of racism, veiled or explicit, are common in the testimonies of UFRB students. Nevertheless, they also served as the driving force for Fabíola Souza, 28, from Serrinha: “Unlike most young black women, without the same opportunity, I occupied this place and today I see that it belongs to us, although they tell us otherwise.”

Reisyanne Lopes, 30, a doctor from Feira de Santana, considers that a black woman’s graduation represents a political act and an act of resistance. “Medicine was unreachable because it is not very common for a black woman from a humble family, a public school student, a taxi driver’s daughter and a community health worker to become a doctor, right?”

Profile of the Medical Schools

The former Medical-Surgical Academy, now the Faculty of Medicine of the Federal University of Bahia (Ufba), is an example of how certain demands accentuated inequalities and excluded lower-class people before the implementation of ethnic-racial quotas.

“The elites place their children to become doctors, even if they didn’t get into it later. There is an elitist tradition in this course and it has been progressively democratizing,” explains Ronaldo Jacobina, a retired Ufba professor.

“Throughout the history of the university in Brazil, a striking feature of its students has been the massive presence of self-declared high-income white individuals, especially in a course of high social prestige, such as the medical school,” says Luciana Santana, professor at UFRB.

In a book published this year, the researcher noted that the percentage of self-declared white students in Brazilian higher education is 68.3%, while the self-declared black, that is, preto and pardo, reached 30%.

In the UFRB Medical School, the percentage was 76.7% – 40% preto; 36.7% pardo. “I believe that we won’t find this percentage of blacks in another Brazilian university, in medical school”, she ponders.

In 2013, the approved class was predominantly female (76.7%); 86% were from Bahia (86%); 66% had attended high school in a public school; 40% reported being black and 53.3% reported family income between one and two minimum wages, which back in 2013 would mean BRL $678 to BRL $1356

“This nation has always been a tormentor of the black population. For us, activists and militants of the black community, we are celebrating a great victory, which we never imagined we would achieve,” says Valdecir Nascimento, executive coordinator of the Odara Institute of Black Women.

This scenario results, although not exclusively, from the Quota Law that focuses on federal universities and guarantees the reservation of 50% of enrollments per course and shift in universities and federal institutes to students who come entirely from public high schools. The remaining 50% of the vacancies remain for wider competition.

According to Paulo Nacif, former dean of UFRB, it’s no coincidence that the courses of the institution as a whole have a percentage of black students compatible with what exists in Brazilian society. “The racial diversity of the first medical class was a project. The UFRB is the only one that is born with a pro-rectorship of affirmative policies and student affairs,” he says.

Trajectories

Doctor Nadjane Santos, 28, from Feira de Santana, opted for medicine while attending the Interdisciplinary Bachelor of Health (BIS). “It’s 10 long years of college. I will not romanticize my relationship with UFRB, as this is a story of pain, deprivation and daily struggles against giving up. But it is also a story of resilience and gratitude,” she admits.

Like the group on WhatsApp – titled Medicina Preta, meaning Black Medicine – students describe other strategies to support each other.

“Within all of that, it strengthened me along the way, I must highlight here the NegreX Collective formed by black men and black women medical students of Brazil. In this space, I felt at home, represented and welcomed,” says Vinícius Pereira, 27, born in Salvador.

In the view of Santo Antônio de Jesus native, Letícia Santos, 34, attending UFRB provided an incredible experience, but there was suffering due to the disbelief of colleagues and even professors.

After graduation, some talked about the challenges and fears. “I could always count on professors to talk about patient cases. Now, I’ve become more independent,” shares Airana Ribeiro, 28, from Feira de Santana.

Performance in the Recôncavo region
The Secretary of Health of the State of Bahia (Sesab) echoed the importance of the graduation of the doctors. According to the department, in addition to their cultural identity, to better understand the epidemiological profile of the Recôncavo region, UFRB-trained physicians tend to act more directed toward the needs of patients who are sometimes neglected.

For the vice-president of the Regional Council of Medicine of the State of Bahia (Cremeb), Julio Braga, doctors trained at UFRB should try to remain in the Recôncavo region of Bahia. The Brazilian Medical Association (AMB), when asked about the impact of this graduation, said that it would not opine.

Prior to graduation, Antonio Wagner Nogueira, 30, commented on the desire to work in the Family Health Unit (USF), and in urgency and emergency hospital care in the Recôncavo region. He is one of the doctors hired in the city of Amargosa, and has also started working in the city of Elísio Medrado.

Until residency, newly graduated professionals serve as general practitioners. Most bachelors heard interviewed for this report prefer family and community medicine, characterized by serving people throughout their lives, bringing together actions for health promotion and recovery.

“Family and community medicine is the area of greatest interest and has always been present in my trajectory during the course,” argues Antonio Wagner.

For Tayana Barbosa, 28, who was born and acts as a doctor in Conceição do Almeida, the biggest challenge now is to be socially accepted as a black doctor from the lower class. “I intend to be a professional as my training proposed to me: family and community doctor, the Unified Health System (SUS), the people of the Bahian Recôncavo and committed to social reality,” he said, before graduation.

In the Recôncavo region, the Estratégia de Saúde da Família (Family Health Strategy), one of the national public health programs, has an estimated coverage of 87.56% doctors, while Bahia has 72.73%, according to Sesab. There are 165 doctors working in Family Health in the region and there is a gap of approximately 22 doctors to achieve 100% coverage.

According to Denize Ornelas, from the Sociedade Brasileira de Medicina de Família e Comunidade – Brazilian Society of Family and Community Medicine -, an area that UFRB prioritizes in the training of doctors, the racial profile, is important because it changes the composition of the classes and allows a better approach to the diversity of the Brazilian population, in relation to demographic, economic and social differences arising from institutional racism.

Ornelas also considers the approach between black doctors and patients important. “Since they find themselves in a position that is classically not occupied by black people, and who usually have a poorer social background,” she contextualizes. According to Francine Conceição, 29 one of the newly graduated doctors, an episode was emblematic in this sense even during college.

“On a home visit, a lady – who was my patient who had suffered a stroke – held my hand and said to her grandson next door: ‘She’s one of ours, she’s black and she’s a doctor.’ They smiled and I was thrilled as she encouraged me to go on without giving up, shaking my hand,” describes the doctor, born in São Felix.

“Whenever the hierarchy goes up, it is considered of higher value, white women and men are seen. If the chosen field is less prestigious, it’s easier for people to understand the presence of black people,” says Emanuelle Góes, PhD in Public Health at Ufba who studies the health of black women.

Regional Quotas

According to the researchers, students and graduates of UFRB, there is a tendency to reduce the percentage of blacks and Bahians among new medical students.

“It is a phenomenon that has been worrying us a lot because our course is built from the perspective of expanding higher education to the interior of Bahia, and to the strategy of providing doctors in the interior,” reflects Luciana Barbosa, professor of the institution.

The professor and former coordinator of the medical school explains that this new phenomenon has been the subject of internal discussion. According to her, it is common for students from the southeast region of Brazil to fill vacancies at UFRB, and other Bahian medical schools, using the Unified Selection System (Sisu).

“It is possible to see, in day-to-day life, that the most recent cohorts have a greater number of white students in relation to the one that just graduated”, comments Everaldino Rodrigues, 29, and student of the ninth medical school cohort. As pointed out by teachers Paulo Nacif, Luciana Santana and Luciana Barbosa, a solution to ensure the diversity of future classes requires the implementation of an assessment system that allows students from the Recôncavo region itself to enter less unequal conditions, that is, through regional quotas.

In 2017, the Attorney General’s Office (PGR) argued that this type of admission, based solely on the origin of the candidate, is unconstitutional. However, the dispute about the constitutionality of regional quotas is still ongoing in the Federal Supreme Court (STF).

According to the UFRB communications advisor, the institution has 92% of its students from the state of Bahia. Of these, 79.6 are from the interior of the state and 62.9% are from the Recôncavo region. Still, the Serial Evaluation Program – PAS – is under discussion, whose implementation actions should take place in 2023. The purpose of PAS is to promote the articulation of the university with education and basic education and, as such, foster a differentiated access policy.

With information from Correio 24 Horas and Brasil 247

About Marques Travae 3201 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.

1 Comment

  1. This is what I like to read about. Very positive stories such as this one,I like the idea that we can become a success story to the younger generation. This is 👍.

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