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Access, Permanence and Success of Afro-descendants in the University

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Prof. Gabriel Mario Rodrigues

Gabriel Mario Rodrigues, President of the Board, Kroton Universities

“Although racial discrimination is prohibited by law, the criteria for approval through job interviews have a much higher subjective burden.” (Márcia Lima) [1]

I recently did a research to see the representation of the black university students in the Brazilian labor market and, incredible as it may seem, there is very little information about it.

I write based on a story published by the newspaper Valor Econômico in December 2017, which brought as the cover of of its Eu & Fim de Semana (I and the Week End) pages, the report entitled “Students of the first class”, by Maria Cristina Fernandes. In it, the journalist, during the ten years of graduation of the first group of the Zumbi dos Palmares College, located in the city of São Paulo, makes an X-ray of the destiny of the graduates of this mostly black college. As she herself puts it, “Value reconstitutes the path of ascension, frustration, and resistance of former students to return to the ghetto.”

The expression is strong. If the ghettos during World War II were generally fenced neighborhoods, where the Germans concentrated the local Jewish population, often from other regions, and forced them to live under miserable conditions, today everything is the same: there are regions/neighborhoods of a city where members of an ethnic minority group live, often due to economic, social, or political circumstances.

This is the destination of a significant portion of the population of large Brazilian urban centers that today, thanks to programs to encourage education like ProUni and Fies, or controversial quotas systems, have access to the university.

Access to higher education has always been greater in the more affluent strata of society. It was only at the beginning of this millennium that, with the advancement of affirmative action [2] and inclusion programs, the poorer and more intermediate classes of society acceded to the university wagon, benefiting from the expansion of public and private universities.

Even so, universities, especially public ones, give a more whitish sample of the population, even though the report mentions the numbers that Márcia Lima and Ian Prates present in the chapter “Racial Inequalities in Brazil: a Persistent Challenge” (Marta Arretche Unesp, 2015): “Between 1980 and 2010, the number of whites with full tertiary education doubled (102%) and blacks quadrupled (290%).”

These numbers, on the face of it, are encouraging, but when one looks at what bases were measured, the reality is quite sad. The IBGE gives us a clue.

Blacks lose access to university to whites not only because of their income bracket: they also lose to considerably poorer whites. The chance of a black man in the middle quintile entering college equals that of a white man among the poorest 20 percent. A black from the second quintile has almost half the chances of a white from the bottom quintile (poorer).

Income quintile is the economic range in which a person finds himself: if he is in the first quintile, it means that he is among the poorest 20% of society; if he is in the fifth, then he is among the richest 20%. Intermediate quintiles represent intermediate ranges.

The black quota system was adopted for the first time in 2004 as a government measure that created a reserve of vacancies in public or private institutions for disadvantaged social classes. In creating it, the government sought to adopt practices that envisaged the improvement of primary and secondary education, enabling the poor, black or indigenous student to compete on an equal footing with students in the private school system.

But these inclusion policies only succeed if they allow access, permanence and success. This trilogy is imperative when talking about quotas for Afro-descendants in universities, and not only for them, but also for indigenous people, public school graduates, low-income students, people with special needs, among others.

To ensure the effectiveness of the inclusion process, it is necessary to develop student assistance, pedagogical accompaniment, evaluation and (re) evaluation of the policy throughout the implementation, and make adjustments and interventions, since the inequalities for this part of the population are constant, since childhood, and are maintained from their access and during their stay in the university. The education to which they have access is of poor quality and, once they are able to enter university, they need to combine work and studies, which impairs their progression in school, compared to students who have access to a better education and do not need to work in order to support themselves, given the help they get from their families.

Even after crossing all these barriers, the black egress finds another societal roadblock: prejudice. “The reports of Zumbi alumni present common stories of how the blacks have to prove double competence,” says the journalist in the report, in which he reports cases in the labor market of explicit prejudice or, more often than not, veiled and subtle.

In the chapter already mentioned, Márcia Lima and Ian Prates rescue the Ipea projection that if the reduction of racial inequalities of income between 2001 and 2007 maintained the same rhythm, it would take 30 years for blacks and non-whites to reach the same income as whites . This projection was challenged by the UN report last year, which warned of the threat that these three decades will become an endless deadline, says Maria Cristina Fernandes in the report. I would add that the same can be said about prejudice.

Are we, as a university, prepared to change this picture?

But that is not all. It remains to be seen, ignoring all the above considerations, whether employability, the cognition of knowledge provided by the university can be considered (un)equal for all university students, regardless of quotas and such. That is, is the university offering ideal skills and competences regardless of the color of the skin, to the fullness of the professional achievement of its graduates?

The shout is known, generally, between labor markets, the university and the students, each looking for “the culprit” in the process.
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[1] Coordinator of the project “Racial Inequalities in Brazil: Changes, Persistencies and Challenges” at the Center for the Study of the Metropolis (CEM). She is a PhD Professor of the Sociology Department of the University of São Paulo. In terms of research, it focuses on: a) racial inequalities and racial relations with emphasis on studies on gender and race; b) inequalities and social stratification with emphasis on labor market studies.
[2] Affirmative actions are, according to Wikipedia, special and temporary acts or measures, taken or determined by the State, spontaneously or compulsorily, with the objectives of eliminating historically accumulated inequalities, guaranteeing equal opportunities and treatment, compensating losses caused by discrimination and marginalization due to racial, ethnic, religious, gender and other reasons.



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Master of Arts in Political Science, California State University Northridge. Twenty five years experience in executive functions at Brazilian colleges and universities. Writer, lecturer. and consultant is, presently, educational editor for Brazil Monitor