The Spring Break group and Ashley at a capoeira class, with the Rocinha favela in the background. Capoeira is an Afro-Brazilian martial art that mixes combat moves with fluid dance moves.

The following are some observations by OU student Ashley Dirks about her research project during the Spring 2017 semester in Rio.

My Project: Education and Affirmative Action in Modern Brazil

One of the joys of studying in Brazil is learning how its unique history affects contemporary issues. Brazil on the surface does not look much different from the United States. There are buses, shopping malls and people walking their dogs in the street. However, when I really began studying Brazil`s political and colonial past, I learned about the many ideological differences between  the United States and Brazil. One of these ideologies is how race is viewed and categorized. In Brazil, racial democracy is a highly valued philosophy. Racial democracy is the idea that a society is racially equal and has no racism. Brazilians believe that since they are a nation full of so much diversity they naturally do not have racism. This clashes with the ideology in the United States where there are two categorizes historically used: White and Non-white. Brazil prides itself on never having the race segregation we had in the United States. My research project focuses on the contemporary issue of how Brazil is breaking down this belief in equality and recognizing its hidden forms of discrimination.

The government has tried to solve this problem by passing anti-racist laws, establishing Affirmative Action quotas, and providing services to the poor populations that too often consist of mostly Afro-Brazilians. This process began in 1988. My focus specifically addresses the government`s policies in education. Education here (as in many places) is the best way for lower income students to gain social mobility. The lack of opportunities for them to get a higher education is what many of these policies are trying to correct. These affirmative action quotas are interesting because they allot slots to disabled students, non-white students, and public school graduates to ensure that not just one demographic, which usually means private-school educated, white students, gains admission to the free public universities. These quotas show a real initiative to address and recognize the struggle some groups in Brazil are going through. The 1980`s began a process of modernizing the country by accepting its diversity rather than repressing it as other modernization plans did before. The idea of racial democracy cannot be dismissed in its entirety since it is the driving idea behind wanting to reach equality for all people in Brazil.

This process has taken a turn however, in the recent budget crisis. The new PEC 55 law freezes social spending for 20 years, therefore keeping education budgets at the same inadequate amounts they are at now. Former President Lulu`s administration successfully integrated new policies such has his Bolsa Familia program that is similar to WIC in the US, and which is now at risk of being eliminated altogether.

What I like about doing this project in Brazil is that I get to talk to Brazilian university students and hear their perspectives about the changing political environment around education. I also get to understand the different ideas about race in Brazil compared to the United States. It has been interesting to gain a different perspective on how the concept of race should be addressed and how the education system plays a part in providing opportunities for a better life for todo mundo (everybody).

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