My name is Rafael Bento Juliano. I am one of the 2010 Richard Smoke Fellowship scholars selected by the Watson Institute, in Brown University.
The fellowship is for an internship at the Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul, (or UFRGS); roughly translated as Federal University of the statate of Rio Grande do Sul, which is located in Porto Alegre, Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil.
I will be working with the post-graduate department of Anthropology in the university, under Dr. Oliven (who was the cogut visiting professor in Latin American Studies at Brown University this past spring!) I hope to learn more about what the expert scholars do, and pick up some invaluable research skills in the process. This internship is very special to me, as I am seriously considering a Ph.D. in Portuguese and Brazilian Studies, and to interact with predominant professionals in this field is likely the closest I will ever be to actually working as a professional in this very field myself! I will put to great use all the knowledge I have obtained at Brown University, in terms of philosophy (thanks to Professor Larmore, Professor Kutach, Professor Christensen, and Professor Dreier), social sciences (thanks to professor Spearin), and the absolutely necessary classes in Portuguese and Brazilian culture, language, and literature (a BIG thanks to Instructor Nielson, Professor Simas-Almeida, Professor Sobral, and Professor Oliven!)
I will also be researching on my own. I am intrigued as to how university students see changes in the required standardized admissions test into State and Federal universities.
In summary, this is why I am in Brazil:
The Problem: Brazil has essentially two types of universities: the universities that are state, and federally funded, and private universities. The Federal and State universities are the most prestigious in the country, thereby attracting the humblest to the wealthiest of citizens. The competition for these universities come down to a single test, the Vestibular. Those who can afford private tutoring are more likely to be admitted into the free universities and receive wonderful education. Those who cannot afford private tutoring are left to fend for themselves, often having to repeat the attempt in gaining admissions year after year, or resorting to private universities that cannot offer education or prestige as state or federal universities would.
Proposed Solution: The leading Federal Universities of Brazil recognize the problem of admissions. Citizens of a higher socio-economic class stand a better chance of admissions into state/federal universities than the average Brazilian. It is for this reason that Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul (UFRGS - where I am) has began implementing Affirmative Action. UFRGS seeks to provide an opportunity to those who can afford private tutoring, as well as to those who cannot and who are disadvantaged by a lack of economic means. I will be working as an intern in this university, gauging the impact of this change in policy, which reserves slots for students, based on ethnic background, economic status, and performance in the Vestibular.
A Bigger Problem: The concept of race in Brazil is one that is vastly different from the United States (to cite one example). Brazil has a culture based on miscegenation, therefore, many of its citizens identify themselves not as the traditional "white", or "black", but as mulatto, mestizo, mixed, etc. In other words, what would be considered a minority in the United States, could potentially be considered the vast majority in Brazil. So, exactly how do Universities go about providing slots to the disadvantaged "minority" if it is, in fact, a majority? The problem is deeper than it seems. The socio-economic factors to be considered are enough to provide a concise doctoral dissertation topic in of itself.
Ultimate Goal: Brazil is facing the issue of admissions into public universities (with the consideration of slots for ethnic/socio-economic status) for the very first time. However, Brazil is drawing from the widely available moral philosophies and humanitarian laws available from the world today. To witness, and work with an university who is pioneering change is akin to witnessing revolution first hand. Ultimately, a major breakthrough may come to Brazil in terms of higher education. More importantly, what is learned in Brazil as the process evolves can (and most likely will) be used by universities world wide.
Perhaps what is learned in Brazil can serve to better the admissions system in the United States. After all, at the heart of the issue lies the willingness to provide education to all those who seek it, independent of race, religion, or finances, or social status. I appreciate the support of my family, (as I miss them very much), the support of the Watson Institute and its coordinators, my professors, and my partner, who has been with me every step of the way. Keep in touch with my blog for more information to come.