10 years of Affirmative Action at the University of Brasília: black student enrollment increases by 71.5% and quota students outperform non-quota students

“The function of racial quotas is to cease from existing or reducing discrimination. The role of society is to work to make this happen as quickly as possible,” says Natália Machado, anthropologist, affirmative action student
“The function of racial quotas is to cease from existing or reducing discrimination. The role of society is to work to make this happen as quickly as possible,” says Natália Machado, anthropologist, and former affirmative action student

Note from BW of Brazil: When the question of affirmative action policies and quotas for Brazil’s African descendants to have more access to a college education first came up more than a decade ago, it was the source of an endless round of debates and arguments that made the country widely discuss the issue of race openly for the first time since the abolition of slavery movement back 19th century. This in a country where many continued to be the society to be free of racial discrimination: a “racial democracy”. Studies dating back to the 1950s overwhelmingly proved the existence of racism and huge social inequalities that separated brancos (whites) from their darker-skinned preto (black) and pardo (mulatto) countrymen. Recent studies continue to prove that these deep inequalities continue to exist. Affirmative action policies were one way that activists believed these inequalities could begin to be addressed.

Congress in Brasília: The Federal District and capital city
Congress in Brasília: The Federal District and capital city

From the moment the first universities began to implement these policies, there were cries of “reverse racism” and accusations that students entering universities with lower entry scores would lower the standards of higher education. But with the first decade of affirmative action coming to a close, these cries accusations against the system have not only been thoroughly debunked, it has given a whole new generation of Brazilians access to college, gainful employment and other victories that would have never been possible without them. The article below examines specifically the outcome of the policy at the University of Brasilia in the nation’s capital city, one of the first to implement the experimental actions. 

Quota students from UnB prove their merit and debunk critics’ myths

by Ana Pompeu

If there were no racial quotas, the Universidade de Brasília (University of Brasilia or UnB) would have 71.5% fewer black students in the last decade. Whoever was at the seminar “10 Anos de Cotas na UnB: memória e reflexão (10 Years of Quotas in UnB: memory and reflection)” considers the representative number. For them, it is proof that the policy statement of the institution worked and came to include a portion of the population that has been discriminated against and excluded from higher education. Moreover, the good results presented by affirmative action students discredited some myths raised by critics of the policy. Among them, there were questions about the falling quality of the university with the enrollment of students through quotas. Time proved, however, that their performance compared to the universal system had no significant difference. In 2009, their performance became higher. The average índice de rendimento acadêmico (IRA or academic performance index) was 3.1 for affirmative action students, while the remaining students reached 2.9.

The function of racial quotas is to cease from existing or reducing discrimination. The role of society is to work to make this happen as quickly as possible, says Natália Machado, anthropologist, affirmative action student

Starting this month, the institution deepens the work of evaluating the results to decide on the continuation of the system. On June 6, 2003, the Conselho de Ensino, Pesquisa e Extensão (CEPE or the Board of Education and Research) approved the reservation of vacancies at UnB. The plan stipulated 10 years for the duration of the policy. As the first cohort of affirmative action students entered in the second semester of 2004, the period expires at the end of the first semester of next year. Thus the time has come for the university think about the maintenance of placement reservations. A committee appointed by the dean must begin meeting to consider proposals on the subject. Possible changes will take effect from the second selection process in 2014.

For now, unanimity is the advancement caused by experience. “Inside UnB, the changing profile of students is remarkable, and racial segregation, which has always been the mark of Brazilian universities, decreased significantly with the increase in the number of black and indigenous students,” said Professor José Jorge de Carvalho, coordinator of the Instituto Nacional de Ciência e Tecnologia de Inclusão no Ensino Superior e na Pesquisa (INCTI or National Institute of Science and Technology of Inclusion in Higher Education and Research). He proposed the first quotas plan adopted by UnB and organized the event held on June 6th.

Anthropologist Natália Machado, 26, was part of the first cohort of quota students of the university. A public school student in Taguatinga, she never imagined becoming a reference on the subject. “In high school, I had no perspective of what could be expected from an action like this,” she says. “The function of racial quotas is to cease from existing or reducing discrimination. The role of society is to work to make this happen as quickly as possible,” she reflects. To her, people still have little idea of ​​the meaning of the policy.

Natália Machado followed was invited as a guest to follow the Supreme Court decision that maintained the quota system in April of 2012
Natália Machado was invited as a guest to follow the Supreme Court decision that maintained the quota system in April of 2012

To combat myths and distorted views about the process, the dean of UnB, Ivan Camargo, defends a detailed and comprehensive assessment of 10 years of the policy. “We need to base it on data, to continue discussing to take the matter to Cepeda,” he said. In his opinion, the university needs to take advantage of the diversity and train leaders to change the inequalities in the country. The dean celebrated the UnB’s trajectory and the influence on other institutions, by be headquartered in the federal capital and having discussed the issue internally.

Ivan Camargo: Dean of University of Brasília
Ivan Camargo: Dean of University of Brasília

The non-filling of vacancies provided by the system was a concern raised at the seminar. In total, 6,632 students enrolled at UnB through the quota system, which represents 13.46% of student representation. The project provides 20% of the vacancies for pretos (blacks), pardos (mulattos) and Indians. The Dean of Undergraduate Studies, Mauro Luiz Rabelo, responsible for compiling the data presented, explained that it was not possible to reach the goal because many students, after being approved, did not enroll. “The minimum required score was also a high barrier, and we’re correcting this. Otherwise, the university opens the door, but don’t let them in,” he says.


UnB was the first federal university to implement the quota system. The Universidade do Estado da Bahia (State University of  Bahia or UNEB) and the Universidade Estadual do Rio de Janeiro (State University of Rio de Janeiro or UERJ) approved the quota system in 2002, but by a state law. After UnB, already in 2005, 16 more institutions included affirmative action and, in 2008, the number reached 84.

Indigenous included

Commonly called quotas for blacks or racial quotas, the reservation of placement program at the University of Brasilia (UnB) also includes indigenous peoples. In their case, the problem of filling vacancies was higher than that among persons of African descent. The goal at the beginning of the plan was to graduate 200 people. Until the last selection process, 202 Indians entered the university, but only six completed the course. Given the conditions offered by the institution itself, the representatives of this group still consider the number of graduates a victory.

The president of the Associação dos Acadêmicos Indígenas do Distrito Federal (Association of Indigenous Scholars of the Federal District), Antônio Dias Macedo, defines the data as “a great moment for this people.” Today, there are 64 indigenous students enrolled at UnB. “We need to seek knowledge for us to base and defend our culture,” he said. To achieve this goal, they need more institutional support. This year, the federal government created the bolsa permanência (permanence scholarship), financial aid to minimize inequalities. “Culture shock is already an impediment and Brasilia is also a difficult city for those coming from a community where the whole family is around,” he says.

In the case of indigenous peoples, there is an archive of the communities included in the knowledge acquired by them in the villages. Professor of Anthropology at the Federal University of Amazonas Gersem Baniwa was invited to comment on the subject. He recalled that quotas are not the only path for inclusion. He believes in the importance of merging the academic vision with white and dominant knowledge with the culture, methodology and experience of the Indians. (AP)

Source: Correio Braziliense

About Marques Travae 3747 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.

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