22 SES 17 B, Various Perspectives on Diversity in Higher Education
Illuminating thus far understudied international relations in global higher education, this research illustrates how the Brazilian government, under the presidency of Luis Inácio Lula da Silva (2003-2010), legitimized Africa-Brazil relations through references to the history of transatlantic slavery; how this historicized framing was translated into curricula and classroom practices. To examine Brazilian South-South cooperation, I conducted a qualitative case study of the University of International Integration of Afro-Brazilian Lusophony (UNILAB), a recently created public university with the explicit mandate to strengthen the cultural integration between African countries and Brazil. The university was written into law during Lula’s second term in 2008. The first campus was inaugurated in the Northeast of Brazil (in the state of Ceará) in 2011. By 2017, 3995 students studied in the seven undergraduate courses Agronomy, Social Sciences and Humanities, Public Administration, Teacher Education in Math and Sciences, Engineering of Sustainable Energies, Nursing, and Pedagogy. 26% of the students come from Guinea Bissau, Angola, Cape Verde, São Tomé e Principe, and East Timor. The proposed paper brings together literature from the fields of critical development studies in education (Stambach 2000), South-South cooperation in education for development (Chisholm and Steiner-Khamsi 2009), and race relations in Latin America (Paschel 2016) and in development (Wilson 2012).
In fitting with the overal conference theme of "Inclusion and Exclusion", the paper foregrounds ‘race’ as an object of knowledge in this study of Brazilian SSC points to the necessary refinement of conceptual framework employed in CIE research to better explain how ‘race’ shapes international development education. There seems to be a tendency to flatten categories of difference in the name of equality, and to shy away from analyses that question foundational assumptions, which originated mostly from Euro-American conceptualization of a color-line and where (not) to draw it. Yet, these questions must be asked to promote a theoretically-sound conceptualization of ‘race’, its complex histories and material realities, and how it has been deployed, reworked and reemployed over time. The paper speaks to the debates of affirmative action, international student mobility, and intercultural relations in higher education.
Between 2012 and 2015, I completed four months of ethnographic fieldwork in Ceará, organized into repeated visits. I interviewed 49 professors, students, and administrators and participated in countless informal conversations (e.g., in hallways, in the library, or while waiting in line for lunch, in town). I spent over 130 hours in classrooms and gathered teaching materials (e.g., curricula, assigned readings) to learn about the content of courses, teaching practices, professor-student, and student-student interactions. To gain insights into African students’ experiences in rural Brazil, I participated in university-supported extracurricular activities (e.g., sports events, independence day celebrations) and activities that took place outside the realm of the university (e.g., social gatherings, birthday parties, church services) for over 400 hours. To get a sense of the university’s self-representation, I collected official documents (e.g., funding documents, publications designed to promote the university, website content). Between field stays and after, I conducted textual analysis of the written materials and continued many of the conversations online. The repeated visits and long-term observations allowed me to follow the emergence of different power constellations and shifting negotiations surrounding the everyday making of the young university. I saw students from African countries – many came to Brazil in pursuit of better futures – struggle to find and afford housing in a small, rural town that was not prepared for their arrival. I witnessed the challenges that professors faced as they were trying to prepare syllabi and course materials that would be meaningful to all the students in their classrooms. I watched the emergence of intercultural friendships and support networks, which were being shaped by intersecting social divisions of class, gender, race, and otherwise. Ultimately, the cultural integration the Brazilian government had envisioned when creating the university, while never completely absent, happened mainly in ways that were reflective of the powerfully racialized class hierarchies that characterize contemporary Brazilian society. The research therefore concludes that Brazilian South-South cooperation in its discourses and, at times, ambiguous practices repeats the century-old colonial gesture of othering ‘Africa’ and ‘Africans’ in new yet all too familiar ways; reworking and reemploying the idea of ‘race’, this time in the name of Brazil’s progress and development.
In this paper, I argue that ‘race’ is a political issue and a point of contention in Brazilian SSC. I suggested that professors have the capacity to influence UNILAB’s institutional directions by holding administrative offices. To get into office, they either have to be appointed by the government (e.g., deans) and the university leadership (e.g., department chairs) or, ideally, they have to be elected. In both cases (and to enforce policies), professors had to solicit the support from their colleagues. I further showed that professors made sense of UNILAB’s purpose from different perspectives to mobilize the support they needed. The majority of them viewed UNILAB foremost as a federal university (like any other), which offers employment and career opportunities. Many did not consider UNILAB’s SSC mandate a priority. Instead they advanced seemingly technical understandings of the university’s responsibilities. In opposition to this depoliticized perspective, a growing group of activist professors enunciated a political agenda. They lobbied for Afro-Brazilian rights—first, for the recognition of the racialized inequalities in Brazilian society and second, for the promotion of nonwhite professors into offices as an act of racial inclusion.
Chisholm, L. and Steiner-Khasi, eds. 2009. South- South cooperation in education and development. New York: Teachers College. Paschel, T. 2016. Becoming black political subjects: movements and ethno-racial rights in Colombia and Brazil. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. Stambach, A. 2000. “Lessons from Mount Kilimanjaro.” Schooling, community and gender in East. New York: Routledge. Wilson, K. 2012. Race, racism and development: interrogating history, discourse and practice. London: Zed Books.
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