Brazil’s affirmative action law offers a huge hand up

Posted in Articles, Brazil, Campus Life, Caribbean/Latin America, Law, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy on 2013-03-11 04:08Z by Steven

Brazil’s affirmative action law offers a huge hand up

The Christian Science Monitor

Sara Miller Llana, Latin America Bureau Chief and Staff Writer

Public universities in Brazil will reserve half their seats to provide racial, income, and ethnic diversity – a law that goes the furthest in the Americas in attempting race-based equality. It will most greatly affect the large Afro-Brazilian population.

Rio de Janeiro—Thaiana Rodrigues, the daughter of an esthetician in Rio de Janeiro, tried to get into college three times. But having spent most of her childhood in poor public schools – her anatomy teacher in seventh grade never showed up to class so she simply never learned the subject – Ms. Rodrigues was unable to pass the entrance exam.

It was not until her fourth try, when she applied as a quota recipient based on her race and socioeconomic status, that she won a spot at the State University of Rio de Janeiro (UERJ), a public university that pioneered a quota system for public school students.

Rodrigues graduated in August 2011 with a degree in social sciences and now has a job working as an administrative assistant in an educational exhibit in the state legislature. Although only in her first year, already she is earning what her mother makes and is positioning herself for a career in public policy.

Now, many more marginalized Brazilians may be able to reap the same benefit. A system that was an experiment at scores of universities like UERJ over the past decade has become law: public federal universities must reserve half of their spots for underprivileged students hailing from public schools, disproportionately attended by minorities.

The law, signed in August and set to be completely implemented within four years, will have the widest impact on Afro-Brazilians, who make up more than half of the nation’s population.

“Without the law, many black students could not get into the system,” says Rodrigues, who is Afro-Brazilian…

…Affirmative action has long been resisted in Latin America, which considered it an import of the US, where it was first tried. After abolishing slavery, Latin America never implemented the segregation policies of its neighbor to the north, and has intermixed racially and ethnically far more than has the US. But fuzzy definitions of race don’t preclude racism.

“The main problem is this idea that this is a mestizo country where mixed-blood people are the majority, and mixing bloods gave us democracy,” says Jaime Arocha, an anthropologist and expert on Afro-Colombians.

“This is the founding myth in most Latin America countries. [Many believe] that our systems are not as segregationist as those in the north,” Mr. Arocha says. “But if you go to a national university in Colombia, the amount of professors of African descent is not more than 2 percent. In terms of students, we do not have more than 5 percent. [Universities] should reflect the demographic profiles of the country.” (Some 10 percent of Colombia’s population is of African descent.)…

Read the entire article here.

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