Brazil’s top public university votes to introduce racial quotas

Unicamp, Brazil’s top university, votes to introduce racial quotas

Brazil’s universities are slowly shifting towards more progressive admissions
Brazil Culture

The State University of Campinas (Unicamp) has voted to adopt racial quotas for the first time. The university has an affirmative action policy in place, but is now preparing to adopt new measures.

The Brazilian legislation has required federal universities to adhere to quotas that better reflect Brazil’s population since 2012. But state universities weren’t required to follow suit, instead adopting far less effective affirmative action policies.

At Unicamp, these policies meant that until recently, public high school students only accounted for approximately 30 percent of students. Similarly, around 20 percent of students are black. Yet more than half of Brazilians identify as black or mixed-race, in addition to indigenous populations.

For years, poor quality public schooling and social inequality have meant that without racial quotas, universities have remained overwhelmingly white. A university education is a serious game-changer for social mobility in Brazil, providing access to better jobs and higher salaries.

“I was the first person in my family to have access to public university,” Lygia Pereira do Santos Costa told plus55 in a phone interview. A 25-year-old black student at Unicamp, Costa collaborated with the pro-quota movement at her university.

“For me, personally, it’s a big change,” she said. Costa says that like her fellow minority and low-income students, she has at times felt a little isolated at Unicamp. “The importance is to maybe be able to change the face of the university a little, and society a little too.”

Initial reluctance

Many universities were reluctant to introduce racial quotas, fearing a fall in national rankings as a result of student performance. In the early 2000s, many federal universities relied on this justification, despite efforts from Black consciousness movements across Brazil.

Faculties at several universities took part in experiments, where they followed quotas for black, indigenous, mixed-race and low-income students. The results showed that the quality of their research remained the same, as did their rankings. After eight years of movements in individual university faculties by Black consciousness movements, Brazil passed its racial quotas law in 2012.

Today, state universities continue using this justification. Students at the University of São Paulo, USP, have been hosting cultural activities in their campaign for racial quotas. Meanwhile, USP’s silence on the issue remains conspicuous.

Social mobility will benefit Brazil

It’s not just individuals who will benefit from university quotas in Brazil. Professor Anita M Cannavaro Benite, president of the Brazilian Association of Black Researchers, says that Unicamp’s decision is important for social progress in general.

“Unicamp’s decision to adopt quotas is very significant, even though it is late,” she told plus55. “[It] represents a possibility of democratization of access to groups that were previously excluded from the process of higher education.”

“The quotas encourage the possibility of an increase in the black scientific community in the country,” she continued. “This is a possibility of producing knowledge that will dialogue and intervene more effectively with the social structure that we are [part of].”