Home » Uncategorized

Category Archives: Uncategorized

“Cost of Opportunity” undergraduates present: Brazilian higher education access spurs both economic and cultural advancement. Does one matter more?

On April 9th, Duke undergraduates and “Cost of Opportunity” project members Vanessa Aguedelo and Joseph Beck presented data that suggested that Brazilian education remains both extremely difficult to access and more crucial to employment than in its developed counterparts. Joe Beck gave an overview of Brazilian education politics noting “most [university] students were wealthy and white likely due to implicit biases in the application process as well as the lifetime costly preparation that’s involved for the Brazilian version of the SAT.”  Aguedelo acknowledged critics who see a tenuous relationship between higher education completion and employment prospects but countered that though Brazil’s graduation rate remains below that of other OECD countries, employment rates for university graduates are higher in Brazil than in OECD countries. On the whole, noted Aguedelo, Brazilians university graduates earn 157 percent more than their high-school graduate counterparts. This contradiction echoes the US educational dilemma, where graduation becomes more costly but also crucial to accessing 9 of 10 US jobs.

Despite these historic difficulties, affirmative action processes implemented at the university and state levels since 2003 and the national level since 2012 have proven effective in increasing the percentage of Black and mixed raced Brazilians in higher education.

Despite these gains, Brazilian affirmative action’s main mechanism-reserving spots for Afro-Brazilian and indigenous students within slots already designated for graduates of Brazil’s public school system-has highlighted racial-ethnic tensions through its quota verification commissions. Joe Beck specifically highlighted the case of Matheus Moros-who as a self-identified mixed race Brazilian university applicant, accused a “a commission of six white people” of annulling his self-identification

While some self-classified  pardo applicants base their identity in family ancestry, the commissions use a combination of phenotype and racial consciousness to validate self-reported categories. While the University of Brasilia suspended such commissions amid controversy in 2007, they returned among reports of widespread quota fraud and then-interim president Michel Temer´s Planning Ministry expanded them to federal job quotas in August  2016. Though at the time the policies received criticisms- from the right and left– the college-prep and Black Movement organization EDUCAFRO boasted that such policies have prevented 1500 fraudulent quota enrollments in Brazil´s universities. In a televised 2018 debate on the Federal University of Goias’ UFG-TV,  Goias Federal Institute (IFG) professor Janira Sodre Miranda recognized the difficult balance between maintaining the internationally recognized right of self-identification and the necessity to weed out “false information” from those who-wittingly or unwittingly-presented themselves as mixed-race or Black without having suffered “the effects of the Brazilian racial operational system.”

These long-standing controversies continue while Brazil’s new president Jair Bolsonaro has promised to reverse the country’s affirmative action policies and the PT governments’ educational initiatives more broadly. But  Black Movements in the last month and a half have also received  good news backed by robust results.Black news outlet Alma Preta reported the Brazilian Lower Chamber’s president Rodrigo Maia told Black movement leaders in a March meeting that while he supported exclusively class-based quotas he acknowledged the “positive results” of racial affirmative action policies which boosted Black university participation from 2.2 percent in 2000 to 9.3 percent in 2017 (in 2011 the number peaked around 11 percent). Recent results from Maia’s home state of Rio de Janeiro- reported by center-right traditional media giant O Globo- suggest those coming admitted through quotas-despite facing initial suspicion and cultural barriers- drop out far less than those from the regular admissions processes(24.6 percent to 34.6 percent) and even maintain  a slight edge (4.65 to 5.88 percent) in Brazil’s most prestigious programs ( such as engineering, law, medicine degrees).

Maia  reiterated “now is not the time to reverse direction” on the policies, which come up for renewal or termination in 2022. While such assurances may merely emerge from the legislative leader’s rocky relationship with Bolsonaro’s administration, the stance falls in line with his socially conciliatory legislative style on hot button cultural issues even as he pushes deregulatory economic and budgetary “reforms.” Quotas look to survive in law, even if  truncated and underfunded.

Putting the legislative politics and economics aside, Agueledo and Beck ended by questioning whether we should even rely on employment and graduation rates to evaluate quota values. They asked listeners to also value  university accesses’ intangible benefits such as a student’s discovery of their own racial identity during their college years.

Readers can see Aguedelo and Beck’s full five-minute talk below:

Duke Brazil Conference reflects on Bolsonaro’s rise

The election of Jair Bolsonaro to Brazil’s presidency surprised many observers and continued the global and regional resurgence of right-wing ascendancy. Since taking power, Bolsonaro’s government has allegedly threatened ideological purges of national scholarship recipients, promised to reverse the country’s now-consolidated quota policies, and downplay-if not eliminate entirely-land  and cultural rights for descendants of Brazil’s fugitive slave and indigenous populations. Duke’s 2019 Global Brazil Conference reflects on how Brazil arrived at this point and what Brazil’s educational community-within Brazil and abroad-can move forward.

Readers can find a detailed schedule below or at Duke’s Center for Latin American & Caribbean Studies (CLACS) website:

Wednesday, February 27

6:30-8:00 P.M.            Keynote Address: Black Women Fight Back

Dr. Djamila Ribeiro


Thursday, February 28

9:30-10:00 A.M.         Coffee and Pastries

10:00-11:15 A.M.       Screening of I, A Black Woman, Resist

Introduction by Dr. Sharrelle Barber (Drexel University, Dornsife School of Public Policy, Department of Epidemiology and Statistics)

11:15-11:30 A.M.       Coffee Break

11:30 A.M.-Noon       Threats to Health Services

Dr. João Ricardo N. Vissoci (Duke Medical School)

Dr. Marta Rovery de Souza (Federal Univeristy of Goiás)

12:00-1:15 P.M.          Keynote Address: Crisis or Destiny?

Dr. Sílvio Luiz de Almeida (Universidade Mackenzie and Getúlio Vargas Foundation)

1:15-2:00 P.M.            Lunch Break

2:00-2:45 P.M.            Threats to Higher Education

                                    Dr. Stephanie Reist (Postdoctoral Associate, Federal Rural University of Rio de Janeiro)

Chloe Ricks (Duke Liberal Studies)

2:45-3:00 P.M.            Coffee Break

3:00-3:45 P.M.            From Hope to Hate: The Rise of Conservative Subjectivity in Brazil

Dr. Rosana Pinheiro Machado (Federal University of Santa Maria)

3:45-4:15 P.M.            Threats to the Environment

                                    Dr. Stuart Pimm (Doris Duke Professor of Conservation, Nicholas School of the                                   Environment)

4:15-5:00 P.M.            Reading Brazil: Current Research from Duke

Ian Erickson-Kery, “Phantoms of Racial Democracy: Whiteness and Whitening  in Cruz e Souza and Cadernos Negros” (Duke Romance Studies)
Gray F. Kidd, “An Arcades Project in the Tropics, Or Collecting the Margins of a Periphery: Recife, 1971-1986” (Duke History)
Marcelo Noah, “Sonic Dynamics of a Concrete Poem: Listening to Augusto de Campos” (Duke Romance Studies)

5:00-6:30 P.M.            Keynote Address: Bolsonaro and Brazil’s Nostalgia for Death

Dr. John D. French (Duke History)

6:30-8:00 P.M.            Dinner and Music by Caique Vidal

Sponsored by Office of Global Affairs and the Hanscom Endowment, Duke Brazil Initiative, and Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies.

Duke Bass Connections highlights Cost of Opportunity-inspired project

Update: The IM/UFRRJ’s Ricardo Portugal  reported on this article under the title “Convênio Duke-UFRRJ produz estudos sobre luta popular na Baixada.” Read em português.

Duke’s Bass Connections highlighted the work of two scholarship recipients, Ingrid Nogueira and Carolina Mendonça at the Rural University’s (UFRRJ) Documentation and Image Center (CEDIM). The two UFRRJ history undergraduates under the supervision of Brazilian PhD candidate Maria Lucia Bezerra da Silva Alexandre and Duke history PhD candidate Travis Knoll seek to both preserve important regional activist histories and determine their own academic trajectory. Readers can find the full post here. Bass Connections’ student follow-on research grants made the scholarships possible.

Undergrads and grad student at CEDIM-UFRRJ.
Carolina Mendonça, Maria Lúcia Alexandre and Ingrid Nogueira at the Documentation and Imaging Center at the Multidisciplinary Institute of the Federal Rural University of Rio de Janeiro (courtesy of Travis Knoll)

Brazil Offers Lessons for U.S. Affirmative Action Supporters

By Travis Knoll

A clash of ideas is imminent. Can US Higher Ed learn from struggles abroad?

In the past year, the fragile affirmative action policies in the United States have come under withering attack, culminating  in recent weeks with the  Trump administration’s reversal of the Obama administration’s interpretation of affirmative action policy. While U.S.  proponents plead the public case for diversity anew, halfway across the world, Brazilian activists reacting to the news warned Brazil’s government against taking similar steps to dismantle a much stronger racial-based affirmative action in their country. They will likely succeed because of resounding legislative and constitutional support for vigorous quota and financial aid policies in that country. This broad consensus in a country with its own struggles with race provides a model for surviving a gutting of affirmative action precedents and shows a path to building new coalitions in support of effective affirmative action policies.

While Brazil’s affirmative action policies enjoy broad legal support, the policies’ fate in the U.S. waxes and wanes. In the wake of new discrimination accusations by Asian-American students against leading U.S. institutions’ use of race in admissions, the  Trump administration, like George W. Bush administration before it, issued guidance discouraging use of race as a factor in elementary, high school, and  university admissions.

Image result for Frei David Santos
Frei David in Brazil’s Senate Human Rights Commission (CDH). Credit: Wikipedia Commons

In Brazil, affirmative action activists are unfazed by the developments to the north. Friar David Raimundo dos Santos, the leader of one of Brazil’s first college prep courses specifically for racially and socioeconomically marginalized Brazilians spoke a day after the issuing of the new guidance. He recently reminded  Estado de São Paulo, a leading Brazilian newspaper, that the debate over affirmative action in Brazil “was not even close” and that opponents would need to change Brazil’s constitution to reverse the policies.

Doing so would be an uphill climb. Affirmative action in Brazil stands on the foundation of two separate laws implementing quotas in  public university admissions and in the public sector. Race-based quotas for public universities were declared constitutional by Brazil’s Supreme Court  in 2012 and for the public sector in 2017. Meanwhile, socioeconomic quotas as a whole enjoy continued majority support in Brazil.

Middle-class Brazilians often admire the U.S. legal system and Brazilian judges often cite U.S. affirmative action precedents in their decisions on the matter. Because of this, friar David has warned that affirmative action opponents may use the recent U.S. decision to try to turn middle-class Brazilians against such policies. Those forces will have media confusion to thank. Some newspapers, such as center-right Estado de Minas and the left-leaning blog Revista Forum, have conflated Brazilian and U.S. affirmative action policy. They report that Trump has reversed the use of racial quotas, which Brazil employs in university admissions, when the U.S. has longed banned quotas and employs a far milder, holistic process.

The U.S. Supreme Court has expressly prohibited use of racial quotas by U.S. universities since the court’s 1978 Bakke  decision. The Supreme Court’s Grutter vs. Bollinger and Gratz et. al. vs. Bollinger (2003) decisions both upheld “holistic” admissions policies and struck down policies that gave across-the-board raced-based boosts to college admissions applications. The court confirmed this reasoning in 2016 in Fischer vs. University of Texas.

In Brazil, constitutional provisions mandating equality and due process call explicitly for equal opportunity, not just protection from racism.  This constitutional clarity combined with Brazilian public institutions’ multi-layered quota system (including widely accepted socioeconomic and gender quotas) make the policy palatable even to conservative Brazilian justices.

The quotas are also effective. According to affirmative action expert Rosana Heringer, quota policies approved by local university councils, targeted national financial aid programs, and the expansion of universities into more isolated regions, helped increase brown and black Brazilian university higher education attendance five-fold between 1997 and 2011. According to Ministry of Education data (summarized by the Cost of Opportunity project here), from  2003 to 2014 the percentage of university students  identifying as black and brown at federal universities rose from 34 percent to 48 percent of all students. Students earning less than 2 times Brazil’s minimum wage rose from 26 percent to 37 percent of all students.

With a more conservative court, the U.S. remains unlikely to implement quotas or any other affirmative action policy as far-reaching as Brazil’s. Brazil’s policies did not come into being overnight, however, but through years of struggle and constant explanations of the potential benefits. In fact, the gains cited above occurred before the courts and the legislatures approved affirmative action and while the Brazilian public remained conflicted on the university quota. In 2008 respondents deemed racial quotas “humiliating” for blacks but general quotas “necessary” for institutional diversity by margins of 53 and 62 percent respectively. Overall, only 51 percent of Brazilians supported racial quotas, with 62 percent of Brazilians believing that quotas would exacerbate racial tensions.

Higher education institutions wishing to adapt to tighter affirmative action restrictions can implement substitute policies for the more direct controversial ones. The courts may end traditional affirmative action admission policies, but universities in the U.S. need to follow their Brazilian peers’ example and take the leading role developing innovative diversity workarounds when the government proves absent or hostile.

For instance, U.S. universities could create and highlight initiatives such as free online and in-person pre-college prep courses to prepare economically and racially disadvantaged groups before they even start filling out applications.  Universities need to allocate even more money for financial aid and earmark it for diverse populations.  They could adopt quota factors such as domestic physical geography and the applicant school’s ranking as proxies for diversity.  Recent developments require universities to communicate effectively, stubbornly put affirmative action at the front of their agendas. If universities show the willingness to boldly embrace affirmative action even in the midst of legal uncertainty, the US public, like Brazil’s, may eventually follow their lead.

Closing a Part of my Life: Two Years in the “Cost of Opportunity” Project [UPDATED]

By: Adaír Citlalli Necalli

Note: The blog has updated this post to include Adair’s  TEDx Duke  Talk on the colonizing biases of European history and  importance of listening to and valuing Nahua native speakers, and First Nations more generally, in our historical, literary, and ethnographic research about them. The issues raised in her talk go to the heart of educational initiatives like   Brazil’s Lei 10.639/03 mandating teaching of Afro-Brazilian history in Brazil’s public schools.

I took my first Portuguese class during my first year of college just for fun. I wanted to learn a new language, and I already spoke Spanish, so I could take the accelerated learning track. I also wanted to see Brazil someday. That had always been a dream of mine, and now that I was the first in my family to go to college, I wanted to take advantage of the opportunities available to me at a place like Duke University.

I also wanted to do academic research someday. I was interested in linguistics, language education and education policy in general, and I was interested in this on a global scale. How do people around the world teach their children? How do different governments around the world value or devalue education for different groups of people in their country? And why does it matter?

So, when I came across the Bass Connections research team, “The Cost of Opportunity? Higher Education in the Baixada Fluminense,” it was perfect. I applied immediately, hoping they would consider taking a first-year student into the team. I didn’t expect to be the longest-standing member of the team two years later.

I am now entering my last year at Duke University, and this team, which has been such a large part of my time at Duke, is coming to a close. All I can do is be grateful for the experiences and opportunities for growth it has given me, both personal and academic.

It is easy for me to just explain that the research methodologies used on this team are the reason why I am able to do my own independent research as a third- and fourth-year now at Duke. Learning how to take field notes, take interviews, modify interview questions on the fly based on what my interviewee needs or wants, analyze and present on these interviews, do census research, statistical analysis, understand survey data, and get along with your research team throughout all of this – people spend entire careers trying to pick up all of these skills! This research team taught it all to me in two years. It’s the reason why I was able to win the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship as well as the Mellon Award for summer research in Latinx Studies. On top of it all, I also got to learn how to put together a whole conference including international guests and how to present at others’ conferences as well, which will serve me immensely going forward in my academic career.

But it would be too easy to just stop there. Of course I learned these research skills. That is one of the main goals of Bass Connections for undergraduates, and I am incredibly grateful that I got to have that experience. However, I would argue that the majority of what I learned has been non-academic.

Adair Necalli (front-middle) with 2016 Duke-UFRRJ Bass Team members

I can still remember each and every favela we saw, and I remember thinking, that’s not too different from my mom’s pueblo back home. I remember meeting the students at UFRRJ who were low-income, and bonding with them over how hard getting a university education is when you need to put food on the table. I remember my gratitude to my scholarship when the students we collaborated with explained how much of a difference it makes to not have to worry about getting lunch at school because UFRRJ has a cafeteria. I remember understanding all too well when these students described a government that didn’t care about the poor or the indigenous or the black and brown; I would describe both Mexico and the U.S. in the same way.

But I also remember the first time we stepped into an AirBnB apartment in an apartment tower, looking over the streets of Rio de Janeiro, and realizing that if you lived up here – so high up in the sky – and never had to worry a day in your life about your ability to succeed in this country, you would never think that there was anything wrong with Brazil. This country looked perfect from a bird’s eye view.

I also remember the first day I realized just how much privilege I held in Brazil when I traveled there as a researcher with this team. Personally, I had never been high-income. I had always been a Mexican immigrant; a person of indigenous descent; a person of color. I had always been the subject of another institution’s decisions. But here, in Brazil, with a student ID that said Duke University, professors with a grant that covered our trip, and my light-brown skin that was basically considered white in the Baixada, I had privilege. So much of it. It truly took me a long time to process it.


I am grateful for encountering the need to understand that, though. Today, I research Nahuatl revitalization programs in Mexico to try to understand how we can improve their success rates. Nahuatl is an indigenous language in Mexico; the indigenous people who speak the language are called Nahua people. I am of Nahua descent myself, and that is why this work is so incredibly important to me. However, when I went on my first trip to Puebla during the summer after my second year, I don’t think I would have understood my place in these communities as well as I did if I had not been to Brazil the summer prior.

In the indigenous communities of Puebla, I am a university student with a grant that covers my trip. My skin is much lighter than many of the people who live there because I am mixed-race. That creates a dynamic that I need to address when I interview people. Once I do, though, and I explain that I have Nahua ancestry myself, and that that is why I work on this topic, my interviews always go successfully. I have created deep bonds with many people in the communities I care about in Puebla, and I am grateful to this team because without it, I would not have been able to do this.

Without this team, I would not be entering my final year of university so sure that I am ready for graduate school. I have recently been accepted as an Associate Fellow with the Institute of Recruitment for Teachers, which will help me apply to 10-12 Ph.D. programs in Anthropology, and through them, I get extra help with GRE preparation as well. I have built wonderful relationships with professors and other students through this team, which have helped me both enjoy the good times at Duke and get through the bad times. Even through my struggles with a reading disability and ADHD, this team has been there for me, and it is definitely a bittersweet goodbye.


Thank you all for a wonderful two years!

Duke University, T’19




“Educate to Liberate” Conference brings together international scholars and activists to brainstorm transnational innovation in education

On April 20, Duke University hosted an all-day conference, “Cost of Opportunity: Educate to Liberate” which brought together Brazilian and U.S. scholars to discuss educational innovation in the Americas, especially for the continents’ marginalized and minority populations.

History professor John D. French opened with a description of Duke’s two-year long project, “The Cost of Opportunity:Higher Education & Social Mobility in the Baixada Fluminense, Rio de Janeiro.” He discussed  the initial phase of the project, which he  guided with Cultural Anthropology professor Katya Wesolowski,  then-graduate coordinator and PhD student Gray Kidd, and on-site coordinator Stephanie Reist. This phase involved  involved “winning over” local project collaborators, the conducting of interviews, visiting key centers of university and social movement activity in the Baixada Fluminense, and coming to terms with the political, economic, and social dimensions of education access in the Baixada and Brazil more generally.Dr. French also discussed the “Open University” Conference held on March 1, 2018 as well as the “Nova Iguaçu Letter” in defense of higher education read at that same conference. The open letter condemned the shortage of public university slots (7000 in total) which fell well short of the goal set by the National Education Plan (PNE) of 30,000 slots. Aaron Colston, a 4th-year history PhD candidate, joined Dr. French in elaborating on the “perverse system” of Brazilian Education, in which the public subsidizes elite education but not social mobility for the country’s working classes.  Colston continued  reverse dynamic harms institutions and teachers by suppressing teachers’ salaries and leaving public schools dilapidated both physically and educationally.

Nova Iguaçu from the window of the Diocesan Archive of Nova Iguaçu. Credit: Travis Knoll

Third-year History PhD candidate Travis Knoll contextualized the higher education debate within the larger drive for political and racial rights since the beginning of the 20th Century. He argued that the fight for higher education access could only take place in the context of a prevailing consensus (in theory) supporting the goals of universal literacy with an eye toward universal high school education. He argued that those opposed to further expansion of university access put elementary and high school education at odds with devoting resources toward subsidies for the marginalized to attend college. He also argued that some of the most visceral opposition to higher education for Black and poor Brazilians stemmed partially from Brazil’s polarized political environment and partially from the Brazilian elite’s traditional fear of openly Afro-Brazilians’ ascendancy into its own ranks.

The Federal Rural University’s (UFRRJ) Dr. Márcia Pletsch, Professor of Education presented next on the Baixada’s infrastructural difficulties. She pointed out that less than 40 percent of the Baixada Fluminense’s population has basic sanitation and that water facilities treat  only around .37 and 10 percent of the sewage respectively in Nova Iguacu and Duque de Caxias, cities which count a combined 1.7 million inhabitants. Ironically, Duque de Caxias has the 7th largest  per capita income in Brazil. Plestch pointed out that the murder rate in the Baixada Fluminense, at 55.8 per 100,000 inhabitants eclipses the City of Rio de Janeiro’s rate of 29.4 per 100,000. She condemned the assault of teachers in response to national protests in Duque de Caxias in 2017 and São Paulo in 2018. The teachers spoke out against a pauper’s wage of $2455 BR per month ($716 USD). She also pointed to positive initiatives such as the National Observatory on Special Education (ONEESP), which tracks resources for education of disabled and needy populations. She also lauded the   gradual end to the “segregation” of special-education students from the general student population, with 60 percent of the target population now integrated into regular classrooms. She ended by highlighting the UFRRJ’s role in providing continuing education which “combine[s] research with systemic analyses about education policies” through municipal level empirical studies which can be used to draw conclusions about national education policies and national teaching systems.

Duke Visiting Scholar and History PhD candidate Eduardo Ângelo da Silva opened with the metaphor of an uphill soccer game on an uneven playing field to describe the difficulties college admissions tests can present for students. Drawing on his background as a public school teacher, college prep course instructor, and working-class doctoral student, Da Silva described the recent changes in the test which held potential for increased access. He mainly focused on the shift from memorization-based vestibular tests made by individual institutions to a national standardized exam, ENEM, which focused on critical thinking and larger historical processes. Such a shift, in Da Silva’s opinion, allowed intelligent students who had less study time or lacked an elite education to compete more fairly with those from a culturally or educationally elite background.

Duke undergraduate economic student Joe Beck, in an extended version of his and colleague Riley Allen’s April 18 EDHx Talk, presented the results of the Cost of Opportunity team’s second year of research. He contextualized the “education revolution” by highlighting the  historical lack, in contrast to the United States, of a strong  Brazilian Black middle class. He highlighted the first phase described by Dr. French at the conference’s opening and also highlighted critical historical  and ethnographic scholarship on the development of the Rural and the Multidisciplinary Institute by Douglas Monteiro de Almeida, Renan Arjona Sousa, and Daniela Viegas Martins. This scholarship used the IM/UFFRJ as a case study to highlight the history, benefits, and persisting challenges that characterized the physical and financial expansion of higher education in Brazil. Beck credited quotas and increased access to financial aid for the partial success in integrating Brazil’s marginalized into universities and for the overall reduction in absolute poverty in Brazil’s Northeast region between 2000 and 2010.

Brazil’s Cesar Augusto dos Santos, then a public policy aide for Black education advocacy NGO EducAfro. Santos traced the trajectory of the organization, which Franciscan friar David Raimundo dos Santos started as a series of voluntary college prep courses and expanded into a national organization capable of substantial fundraising and political lobbying. The organization has contacts in various state and national agencies, including the Brazilian Foreign Ministry, Itamaraty and the Brazilian Congress. EDUCAFRO also dialogues with civil society leaders, such as indigenous leader Kaká Werá. He also highlighted Educafro’s political leadership and networking initiative, “Engage Negritude” to encourage Blacks disillusioned with the current political realities and angered by the death of Black Rio City Councilwoman Marielle Franco to actively participate in Brazil’s political process.

During intermission, the team ran a viewing of “O Custo da Oportunidade” a 30-minute short film made by then-Duke PhD candidate Stephanie Reist and community filmmaker Dudu do Morro Agudo on the challenges and the social effects of entering Brazilian universities as a first-generation student. The  video premiered in schools across the Baixada in 2017, attracting  local and national media attention.

Urban Planning PhD candidate Andrew Guinn, from the University of North Carolina presented on the expansion of Brazil’s technical education program in comparison to its role in the United States. While  United States readers often treating “vocational ed” as an alternative to a university education, Brazilians have access to training modules (FIC) or longer term technical degrees that can  either replace or supplement a  high school or college education. Guinn pointed out that technical education did not replace, but often lead to a university education. He noted that the Brazilian federal government runs technical education while in the U.S. administration of technical education falls under state jurisdiction. Guinn detailed the structure of the technical education network Pronatec, which interfaced with various industry partners, government financial programs, and standardized admissions programs to pair  employers with qualified job-seekers. He noted that the program took off in 2013 and 2014 with steep cuts coming only in 2016 and 2017 with the onset of the political crisis. The expansion of technical schools mirrored the overall physical and financial expansion of Brazil’s educational programs, giving technical schools a determining say in regional economic development and new opportunities for private sector collaboration. Commenting on Andrew Guinn’s presentation, Tito Matias, a PhD candidate here on a Fulbright scholarship from the Federal University of Rio Grande do Norte (UFRN), discussed his experience teaching in the Education, Science and Technology  Federal Institute of Rio Grande do Norte (IFRN) where he collaborated with the IFRN chapter of the Afro-Brazilian and Indigenous Brazilian Research Group (NEABI) and local community members to organize consciousness-raising conferences and to discuss Afro-Brazilian and Indigenous content in Brazil’s classroom. NEABI, with the help of rural female artisans, also worked with 15 to 18 year old girls to embrace natural hair and specific body decorations that  instill pride about their Afro-Brazilian identity. He warned against 50 percent cuts to technical education since 2015  and noted the failure to create a vocational English-language course. He also warned that institutes like his around the country are undergoing “reorganizations” which threaten to consolidate or close them.

Students and professors later discussed the trajectories that carried them toward university. Duke assistant biology professor Gustavo Monteiro Silva discussed his  mother’s work in a newspaper archive which had a partnership with a wealthy São Paulo private school, which he later attended. This private education helped him enter the University of São Paulo (USP), one of Brazil’s most prestigious universities. Even so, he faced challenges such as navigating a predominantly white space and commuting 1.5 hours each way by bus to attend classes. Matheus Dias  presented on his privileged upbringing in São Paulo, first attending the  Colégio Santa Cruz  a prestigious  São Paulo Catholic private school founded by Canadian priests of the Congregation of the Holy Cross (C.S.C.). The first in his family to study at an institution outside Brazil, he also spoke of his leadership role in the international Brazilian Students Association (BRASA) founded in 2014 to support 3500  Brazilian students  in 72  international universities and  “empower the next generation of leaders for a better Brazil.” Duke undergraduate Luiza Perez shared a similar trajectory to that of Matheus. Coming from a family of five, she went to a Brazilian private school. She had the additional benefit of US citizenship (having been the only one born here), she returned to the U.S. to focus on health in neglected populations. Perez discussed how an allergic reaction as a kid which opened her eyes to the healthcare disparities between Brazil’s private and public systems. This epiphany drove her to study Brazilian sanitation and infectious diseases in the Peruvian Amazon. She credited the U.S.’ flexible system for her “wide range of experiences.”

Duke visiting scholar Eduardo Ângelo da Silva spoke of the encouragement he and his brother, Leonardo, received from their father José Candido da Silva, the son of a stone worker’s assistant, to pursue a university degree. The highlight of his talk centered on Cândido’s, trajectory, who, during Brazil’s military dictatorship (1964-1985) passed the entrance exam for Juiz de Fora  Federal University (UFJF) in Minas Gerais state in 1971. Seeing Cândido unable to balance work and his classes, Cândido’s boss, Vicente Ângelo Rosa, raised his salary and reduced his hours to allow him to return to classes and receive his degree in Portuguese Literature. Besides bestowing the middle name “Ângelo” on his three sons, Eduardo’s father instilled in them an appreciation and thirst for a free, public, and accessible education. Both Eduardo and Leonardo came to Duke University as visiting scholars  on a year-long federally funded study abroad “sandwich” scholarship (PDSE-CAPES) to study labor movements in their region.

Duke undergraduate Adair Necalli contested the 2017 World Bank Report calling for university fees in Brazil’s  free public universities. She pushed back against the characterization of Brazil’s university system as inefficient and ineffective in increasing education access for Brazil’s marginalized, noting that national racial and socioeconomic quota policies had substantially increased the number of  students from poor and racially marginalized backgrounds. She rejected the World Bank’s proposals to cut public university funding to the level of private universities noting that such a structure would exacerbate existing financial and logistical barriers to university attendance, increase drop-out rates, and set a precedent for even larger class sizes in Brazil’s public school system. She noted that the consumer mentality created by university fees has not helped private universities surpass public institutions in teaching quality or prestige. Nor has a private university funding model alleviated the inequality in funding distribution which would likely increase when pooled university fees, as opposed to federal funding subject to more rigorous transparency and accounting controls, become the main source of student financial aid.

Father Clarence Williams, (PhD, CSSP), discussed his time coordinating the Pan-African Roman  Catholic Clergy Conference (PARCCC) and the National Black Catholic Clergy Caucus (NBCCC) and the organizations’ relationship with the National Black Sisters’ Conference. During the 1990s and early 2000s, Father Williams hosted and led a series of delegations to and from Brazil. As Williams recounts in a chapter of Mary Shawn Copeland’s Uncommon Faithfulness, he also hosted a series of conferences focused on African and African-diaspora theology. Among those invited were two prominent Afro-Brazilian Franciscans, Frei David Raimundo dos Santos and Frei Athaylton Jorge Monteiro Belo (Tatá). These conferences served to create “a think-tank” of Black Roman Catholics, who make up 20 percent of the Catholic population according to Williams. His memories revealed the educational process David Santos and Tatá passed through. David Santos received an honorary “key to the city” from Detroit’s City Council in 1992, reinforcing for him  the idea of Black theology guiding politics. At one point, Tatá, visiting Detroit in 1995, took a picture next to a car to commemorate his visit to the “car capital” of the world, demonstrating the allure the United States’ Fordist economic system still held in the global imaginary.  In the second part of his presentation, Williams described the “existential genius” of  leaders such as Martin Luther King and the U.S. nun and martyred land rights activist Dorthy Stang, SND. Existential genius, as Williams defines it, facilitates a self-knowledge so profound it allows those who possess it to lead by their “very existence.” Williams spoke of the need for existential geniuses to combat the “racial dysfunction” that underpins modern societies.His approach detailed in the book Racial Sobriety led reporter David Crumm to call him one of Detroit’s  “most gifted racial healers.” It involves “seeing each person as a member of the same human family” in contrasts to other paradigms that see racism as inherent within institutions themselves. In Father Williams’ perspective, racism constitutes an addiction, a dysfunction, in need of a cure, not an intrinsic (and by implication, unchangeable) state. He traced racism back to distorted views of Christianity which marginalized other ethnic and religious groups and ultimately led to the  progressive adoption of Catholic, then European, then specifically Anglo-Saxon paradigms respectively. Religion, history, and racial prejudice interfaced in nefarious ways.  “Christian supremacy”, based in  biblical stories endorsing genocide against the people’s of Caanan and the demonizing of Egyptian civilization laid the groundwork for white supremacy. Only training, education, and self-awareness could reverse these long-entrenched paradigms.

Duke undergraduate Chloe Ricks presented her ethnographic comparison between the Baixada and the Mississippi Delta. She focused on the intersection of poverty and anti-blackness in the two regions. To her, prejudice against blacks and the poor created peripheries, not the other way around. As “dormitory” regions, these two peripheries provided a key to “understand the world.” Methodologically, many stories created a “Story [capital “S”]” which served as a meta-narrative to describe oneself or others. For Ricks, the   symbol of Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro, and Mississippi’s “Delta Devil” mascot hinted at the frustration of social suppression and the helplessness which led one to believe that “some higher power” kept oneself or one’s population down. She discussed the role of Mississippi Valley State University and the IM/UFRRJ in providing a  resident’s sense of “escape” from these regions, but also the continuing difficulties of pushing back against  elites in both  the Brazil and the U.S. who remain unwilling to “share privilege.” She noted that Rodrigo Monteiro, one of her Brazilian interviewees, saw the racializing of Brazilian university and public sector quotas as a “not a good thing” for the acceptance of the policy, given the continued stigma of open Blackness in Brazilian society. Ricks discussed continuing challenges in the Delta for teachers who taught subjects that aided blacks and the poor in their everyday lives, but proved ineffective or unable to teach about their own anti-racist activism, and thus “unseat” broader racist structures. She ended by highlighting the value of those with experience, urging them, not merely those with formal academic training like doctorates, to “teach about themselves” to liberate their communities and society at large.

Winston Salem State University’s (WSSU) Dr. Michele K. Lewis discussed the importance of “Photovoice”, a teaching technique  allowing for greater researcher engagement in their own communities or in those in which they study. For Dr. Lewis, the technique proved promising for  Black students to tell their own stories of discovery when visiting Salvador de Bahia, Brazil. Students were allowed to photograph whatever they desired, but Lewis charged them with writing a short reflection of several paragraphs about their choice and its significance for their overall significance to the trip. She opened with a photograph of a staircase at the Steve Biko Institute. The student had seen the staircase as a symbol for students’ advancement at the Biko Institute. Another photo commentary on the Atlantic Ocean, challenged the process of European naming. The student asked why the graveyard of many a slave ship might be called the Dead Sea instead of the salty sea between Israel and Jordan. Another student discussed the importance of a Bahian Afro-Brazilian cultural and musical group, Olodum, asking “If we don’t care about African heritage, who will?” Through exercises like these Dr. Lewis’ students would wrest some control of the modes of knowledge production from traditional academics and, more practically, compellingly convey their study abroad experiences to  WSSU peers upon their return. While Dr. Lewis thought that Photovoice offered an opportunity for students to engage research questions outside traditional methodologies, she cited lingering tourist mindsets, concept and image borrowing, as well as a difficulty of explaining one’s own concepts as ongoing challenges. She planned to address these challenges through a more robust rubric, more time in the field, and less lag time between photo taking and written reflections. Overall, she expressed excitement about the possibilities of visual studies for an liberating education.

John French gave the closing remarks for the conference, commenting on the current Brazilian political crisis and urging conference attendees and Brazilians more generally to reject an inferiority complex (vira-lata) which would always look to the North Atlantic for theoretical, social, and political leadership.

Ultimately, this conference which brought together politics, society, religion, and education, started conversations which could prove useful in the long, tough, but ultimately rewarding work of  the so-called “periphery’s” self-definition, self-affirmation, and self-governance.



Nova Iguaçu “Open University” Conference sparks continued reflection

By Riley Allen

Students from Duke University and the Federal Rural University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRRJ) continue to reflect on the UFRRJ’s “Open University” conference held on March 1, 2018 in the city of  Nova Iguaçu. The event brought together 160 elementary, high school, and university students, professors, government officials, and community members.

In the opening panel, UFRRJ’s dean of research and graduate studies, Alexandre Fortes discussed the need for this event in terms of education’s benefit to Nova Iguacu’s community and the threats to higher education at the local, state, and national level. Duke professor John D. French called teachers the “heroes of democracy” and noted that the educational challenges facing Brazil’s educators make up part of a larger worldwide trend and struggle.Alexsandro Costa Castellar, Nova Iguacu’s secretary of  education, planning, and strategic affairs discussed his own trajectory and the need for students to continue to fight for their seat at the table. Juarez Barroso Ferreira,  Nova Iguacu’s secretary of culture, discussed the drop-off in student participation between high school and university, saying students often cannot make the sacrifices necessary to attend university and  grow tired of academic pressures and lacking resources after nine years in public schools.

During the second panel, Jocelene Ignacio and Dudu de Morro discussed culture and identity in Nova Iguacu. Ignacio talked about the college entrance exam prep course and her involvement and affiliation with the Catholic Church in the 1990s. Dudu discussed the importance of remaining rooted in one’s community. He revealed that his chosen name “do Morro Agudo” constantly reminded him of his often-overlooked and stigmatized neighborhood. Dudu asked the students “if everyone distances themselves, how will people give back to the community?”

In the afternoon, the conference shifted to individual workshops outside of the glare of the auditorium stage and  recording cameras. They involved workshops introducing the university, talking about the state of Brazilian education, and creative writing. Luana Lima da Silva wrote about the conference’s overarching goal of “raising the consciousness” of students, especially at the elementary school level, regarding the threats facing higher education, symbolized by the temporary and permanent closure in recent times of even prestigious universities such as the State University of Rio de Janeiro (UERJ). They discussed how these threats could close off future avenues of social advancement for these future students. She argued that inviting these students to the one-day conference and workshop “brought these worlds closer” and allowed students to develop “a sense of belonging” to the university space. She spoke specifically about the round-table discussion “Right to Higher Education: A Matter of Struggle and Resistance”. The workshop, conducted by university students from the Baixada itself, and divided equally between male and female students, addressed the experiences and difficulties of these students in accessing higher education. These difficulties can include practical matters such as access to food, transport, technology, and adequate financing. More abstract challenges can also include adjustment to a different curriculum, set of assumptions, and cultural focuses which may differ from said student’s expectations or background.  The workshop opened by each instructor introducing themselves, detailing their academic trajectory, where they lived, and their profession. After an initial awkward silence, the group discussed “myths” about higher education, making friends at the university, and the college entrance test, ENEM. They also discussed educational resources at the Multi-Disciplinary Institute (IM/UFRRJ) such as the library and the IM’s college prep course, Pré-Enem Éthos.

As Lima pointed out, through the workshop, the public school students discussed the challenges that they shared with  aspiring and current university students, such as the competitive atmosphere created by the small number of university slots and parents’ unenthusiastic support for pursuing a university degree. Learning about mutual struggles  expanded these students’ horizons of possibility. Some students expressed interests in military service and a Medicine degree. The day ended with poetry, musical performances, and a vocational test for the aspiring students to give them an idea  of potential careers to pursue. Yago Valle, an organizer of the workshop said the workshop participants “used our time to the maximum.” He felt “surprised” by the students’ engagement and “filled with hope” for their potential to carry on the necessary change in Brazilian society.

Carla Castanha, an organizer of the conference, undergraduate in  Letters and Literature, wrote that despite the “marathon” of work and the unforeseen logistical issues that inevitably arise with the conference, she felt “gratified” when reflecting upon the experience. “We offered these young people an opportunity that I did not have in my town [as an applicant].” She said the conference proved successful in showing the “how transforming and empowering university life can be” adding that she “felt in many of them the satisfaction and joy of being there.” She also credited the institutional partnership between Duke and the UFRRJ for the success of the conference and the Cost of Opportunity project in general, saying she learned academically, professionally, and personally “from the very first day” of the project. As a Duke undergraduate, I noted that the young students took an interest in the Rural’s informational pamphlets and the university’s computer access. They also wondered why, as foreigner, I “came to the Baixada!?” This last question highlighted the continuing internalized regional sigma and, therefore, the importance of the event in highlighting educational resources within the Baixada.

Travis Knoll,  Luana Lima da Silva, Carla Castanha, Yago Valle, and  Tavires Fonseca also contributed reporting to this story


Duke Student Riley Allen participating in Open University workshop.
Photo: Ivan Lima, Japeri Online


Nivelando o campo de jogo: Uma história popular

Por Eduardo Ângelo da Silva

Deixo aqui o registro de um momento muito significativo em minha trajetória, a participação na Conferência Internacional “O Custo da Oportunidade: Educar para Libertar”.


Como todo estudante de origem popular, nos anos 90 sentíamos que os vestibulares públicos estavam lá para nos massacrar. Tentei muitos vestibulares até conseguir ingressar em uma graduação pública. Por não ter condições de pagar os cursos especializados, fui tentando e acumulando experiência sobre os exames. Em casa, eu sempre  tive uma grande referência de um estudante pobre que ascendeu através da educação. Meu pai, filho de um ajudante de pedreiro que um dia se tornou pedreiro, conseguiu realizar “o milagre” de ser aprovado no vestibular da Universidade Federal de Juiz de Fora (UFJF), em 1971, durante a ditadura militar, período de grande desigualdade social. No início de seu ano letivo, em 1972, ele já estava certo de que não poderia iniciar o curso, pois trabalhava o dia inteiro. Seu patrão, Sr. Vicente Ângelo Rosa, decidiu reduzir seu horário de trabalho e aumentar sua remuneração para que ele avançasse nos estudos. Em homenagem ao Sr. Vicente, eu e meus irmãos temos o “Ângelo” em nossos nomes. Meu pai, que cresceu na periferia miserável de Juiz de Fora, tornou-se um excelente e querido professor de Língua Portuguesa. Penso que essa história foi uma das coisas que meu deu forças para não desistir.

Era uma competição muito injusta. Embora eu tivesse ciência das habilidades que desenvolvi na escola, relacionadas à interpretação, análise lógica, entre outras, elas não eram suficientes nas disputas com as pessoas que podiam pagar por seu treinamento especializado. O ENEM foi um avanço nesse sentido e nivelou, em certa medida, o campo de disputas.

Fui brindado pela vida com a oportunidade de trabalhar por 10 anos em um pré-vestibular social [Cederj]  onde pude tentar ajudar jovens, que, como eu, buscavam concretizar o sonho de ingressar no ensino superior. Foi um honra!

A apresentação conectou minha experiência como aluno e professor, em relação ao tema e agradeço muito a oportunidade.

Na foto de minha apresentação, “Nivelando o campo de jogo: o Exame ENEM como uma conquista democrática”, aponto para o valor do salário mínimo [R$ 415,00] vigente durante as inscrições para vestibulares 2009, UFRJ [R$95,00] e UFF [R$97,00]. O valor das inscrições era inacessível a muitos.

Infelizmente, o Governo Temer (golpista) vem tomando providências para elitizar o exame. Determinou um período absurdamente reduzido para a solicitação de isenções e aumentou a taxa de inscrição.

Além da significativa expansão do ensino superior público é preciso que defendamos formas mais democráticas de ingresso!

O perigo de graves retrocessos nos ronda!

College Prep NGO and Afro-Brazilian Rights Organization Writes Federal Officials on the Death of Marielle Franco

Marielle Franco, councilwoman of Rio de Janeiro assassinated on March 14, 2018

Editor’s Note: This letter addresses the death of Rio de Janeiro City Councilwoman Marielle Franco. A rising bi-sexual, Black politician from one of Rio’s favela communities before her death, Franco became a symbol for the political potential of Rio’s marginalized communities. Her sudden death coincided with an unusual federal military intervention in Rio de Janeiro, and her role on an oversight committee related to that intervention, and evidence that weapons from the federal police were used in her killing raised further suspicions about the motivations surrounding her death. Her political and intellectual trajectory, including her participation in a community college prep course run by Center for Studies and Solidarity Actions,speaks to the difficulties and opportunities that come with seeking to combat marginalized communities’ stigmatization, violence, economic precariousness, and social indifference. Frei David, the director of EDUCAFRO, was a key figure in negotiating the first  PUC-Rio scholarships specifically for pre-vestibular students. The full letter is translated below  and can be accessed em português here.

São Paulo, March 28, 2018

From: The EDUCAFRO Family

To: Raquel Doge, General Prosecutor of the Republic (PGR),

Fourteen days after the killing of our sister Marielle Franco, scholarship recipient in the PUC-RIO walking through doors opened by EDUCAFRO, Brazilian warrior that also received her Masters from the Federal Fluminense University, social leader, and an exemplary City Councilman, we are going to drastically lower our expectations for getting to the bottom of yet another crime against Black bodies.

The Rio City Police have consistently failed in the process of collecting evidence for solving crimes when they involve Black bodies. It is a national, not just local problem. For each 100 persons assassinated in Brazil, only 6.7 percent are even investigated by the state Public Ministries according to FENAPEF. No one carries out quality forensics to find the criminals and discover the motivation of the crimes, because they involve, in large part, the poor and Black bodies. Whose interest is it to invizilibize the extermination of Black youth?

The day following her martyrdom, around 8:45 AM, we sent a message to the Madame Prosecutor:

Dr. Raquel Doge, by way of the Vice Prosecutor Dr. Luciano, requesting the immediate federalization of the criminal investigation (before it is to late). This request is made considering that this very own Federal Ministry of Justice warned the nation that almost the entire Rio City Police was infected with organized crime. We were very happy when the Prosecutor, around 1PM made the decision to federalize the investigation. We were once again apprehensive when, around 6PM, after her meeting with the intervening military force [in Rio], she backtracked on that judgement.

The intervention in Rio and those planned for Ceará and the rest of the sates could be so much more efficient and with far less expense. It’s enough to first intervene in the barracks, keeping and rewarding the police that do not let themselves become corrupt and getting rid of those that align with crime. Community problems are merely consequences of the lack of control within the barracks. The Police and Public Security External Review Committee of the CNMP is structured to not work. It needs to be given teeth.

Even though we asked for it, ObservaRio-a mechanism created by the current Ministry of Justice- did not permit the participation of Black Movement entities in issues related to the extermination of Black youth.

Fourteen days have passed…Marielle Franco cannot be one more of “today’s death squad killings”, falling under “unsolved crimes” carried out by “invisible” power whose victims are in large part Black and poor. We do not yet see any effort on the part of those responsible for solving this crime. Where is the intelligence work of the Rio State Public Ministry now?

Given what has been stated above, we once again tell the National Prosecutor General to:

  1. Federalize all of the investigative work related to the solving of this crime.
  2. There is a severe problem in all 27 states of the nation, not just in Rio de Janeiro.
  3. Request of the National Council of the Public Ministry, CNMP- that it expand its taskforce working with the Police and Public Security External Review Committee, that operates under its auspices. In all of the meetings that our team has had with representatives of this commission, the response has always been the same: Lack of human resources and tools for external oversight along with the insubordination of the state police regarding the rules promulgated by the CNMP.
  4. The 2017 Violence Atlas, launched by the Applies Economics Research Institute (IPEA) tells us that white deaths have decreased by 12.2 percent and has risen 18.2 percent among Black youth at the national level. The PGR and the CNMP must demand an official report, written by the police in each state, suggesting the causes that generate impunity for crimes committed against the Black population throughout the nation.

It is our expectation that, with federalization, this crime will be solved and that the culture of public security agencies throughout the country will change.


Friar David Santos, OFM

Executive Director


Federal Rural University (UFRRJ) event discusses Higher-Ed

Editor’s note: This article, produced by Ivan Lima at “Novo Japeri Online” originally appeared in Portuguese here.

Sign reading “Trailblazing in the Academic World (Roundtable Discussion)”
Photo: Ivan Lima, Japeri Online

The Federal Rural University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRRJ) in Nova Iguaçú hosted the event “Open Univesity for the Right to Higher Education” this past Thursday, March 1. The event included discussion panels, workshops, and cultural activities involving university life, a life that each day is more distance from the neediest populations.

Twenty-one-year-old Luana Lima, a History student at the Rural, told Novo Japeri Online what motivated the event:

“This event was driven by the fact that public universities are deteriorating. As such], through this event we are looking to bring public school students [to the university] so that they can see that this space is theirs by right and that this space is being threatened through the government’s own doing. Therefore, we see that these threats are real, we already see various cuts in education. We have had various cuts to higher education. Because of this, we try to bring these students here so that that they can see that this space is for them, so that they can enter university and become the first in their families to study at a university,” explained Luana.

The UFRRJ has a partnership with Duke University in North Carolina, a university which currently conducts research in the Baixada. The event included the participation of 21-year old Riley Allen who talked with public high school students in Nova Iguaçú about her experience here in Brazil.

The U.S. student came away impressed by the friendly spirit that she saw between the students and she was impressed to see high school students interacting with the university.

In the afternoon, the event simultaneously carried out some workshops geared toward high school youth in which they answer in doubts about university academic life.

Laysa, a 15-year old student of CIEP 2016 in the Corumbá neighborhood in Nova Iguaçú said she liked the experience a lot and that she now sees public universities in a different light.

“I had a different idea about what a university was and I even dug a little bit deeper into what I want to do” the future college student said. The Rural’s Multi-Disciplinary Institute’s initiative brought much knowledge, and more importantly, arguments in defense of a quality university in Brazil.

Listen to the full report in the podcast!


Duke Student Riley Allen participating in Open University workshop.
Photo: Ivan Lima, Japeri Online