Quotas in Brazilian Universities: The Online Debate

This post is also available in Portuguese. quotas

There is an important public conversation going on in Brazil. Affirmative action quota policies are being implemented in some Brazilian universities*. The debate will heat up in the coming weeks as Congress considers a new law (law project nº 3627/2004) that would establish a system of reserving places for public school students — particularly blacks and indigenous people. The new law will establish and regulate affirmative action as an official government policy.

Had this situation happened a decade ago, the debate would be restricted to the universities and to congress. We would have had to count on the good will of mainstream media to give the issue the deserved visibility. Today, with the help of online forums, group lists, and mainly blogs, the debate has greater participation and media democracy is growing broader and deeper. The open network of interested people takes charge of expanding the reach of the quotas debate, generating new and diverse players, manifesting new and effective policy and adding perspectives that would not have been on the radar before.

The proposal sent to congress by the government requires the federal universities and technical schools to reserve 50% of the places for students who attended high schools in the public system. From this percentage, afro-descendants and indigenous people will have its places reserved in proportion to the respective population rates from the last census (1991) in each state.

The Brazilian online community has been debating the issue for some time, and the arguments present details and nuances that go beyond simplistic, polarized positions. At this moment, the new law under consideration in congress, primarily regarding the public school students in general, has introduced an augmented focus on social quotas over racial ones. What could be seen as simple percentages in the text of a law turns out to be a more nuanced change of the public policy. And this tests the capacity of the open network in keeping the interested players updated and ready to participate.

Here are samples of Brazilian voices debating quotas on the web:

People who can afford high quality classes will always pay for it anyhow. It’s also a more efficient way of making the money circulate in society: the ones who can, will pay for it. I won’t talk about social issues. But in a sense, I see some kind of masqueraded vengeance, something subconscious in the mind of the people who supports quotas. Something like: “you had oppressed us for 506 years, and now we will pay back”. Taking from the rich to give to the poor? This is unfair, mainly because many students in public universities are not rich people. Other point to be considered is the quotas of the quotas. Beyond reserving half the places to public schools attendants, part of it will be restricted to afro-descendants and indians. INDIANS?!
“Quotas: privilege and reality” – blog Segredos de Fátima

The argument that investing in public basic education would be a better solution than the adoption of quotas at the university is cynical, not to say dumb. The truth is that 30, 40 years ago, the public schools were the best, and few black people had access to it. And even today, the best public schools like Cefet, Pedro II and others, are almost only attended by white people. So, it is quite the contrary: we would have to establish quotas also in the other levels of public schools and not only universities.
Who is afraid of the colour of the quotas?” – blog Grito Sufocado

The quotas campaign to facilitate the public schools students in public universities is a campain that offers a populist, hypocritical and demagogic solution to calm down the citizens who are justifiedly angry with the educational problem in our country. We will fail to do the revolutionary reform urgently needed in our basic and medium public schools. We will instead adopt an emergency measure that will postpone the problem to the future and manage to please the voters now.
Quotas” – blog The right to be wrong

The debate, many times, occurs as an exchange in the comments section of the blog, like this one below, which answers the post above:

In a country of excluded and apolitical people… where the majority live at the margins of the society, where citizenship is a strange word… Is it in this country that you suggest that a simple leveraging of the basic and medium public schools will do?… while the rich continue to take advantage of public universities?… Maybe the quotas system is the only way of solving at least part of the problem… maybe this way, the excluded will politizate themselves and get strong, and maybe then fight for the needed improvement…
Comment by ‘Ego Freak‘ in the post Cotas – blog The right to be wrong

Exercising a kind of amplification, many frequently visited blogs function like resonance boxes to well-written articles about the issue, which are published in sites of many kinds and also in the mainstrem media. Those posts** always bring links, and in many cases, the whole article, which presents more elaborated arguments — always backing the blogger’s opinion.

The debate about quotas is a debate about Brazil. The discussion is about two different projects to fight racism: one that strengths the ‘racial’ identities and, ultimately, kills ‘pardos’, ‘caboclos’ and ‘morenos’ (Brazilian mestizo classifications) etc.; and the other which takes the anti-racism position, focusing on diminishing the gap between classes and on the continuous fight against the negative symbolic representation attributed to people of darker skin. These two projects are also different national projects. One envisions a nation divided by racial / ethnic differences — a nation of communities. The other believes in the possibility of building a common rights citizenship — independent of ‘race’, ethnicity, genre, sexual orientation, etc. — protecting the right of each person to follow his own way of life in a nation of individuals. Finally, we say that we can’t fight racism with a policy that affirms race. When the state make laws upon the concept, it ‘founds’ the notion of race, creating the very same thing it wants to destroy. We deserve a better solution to the big problems we face today.
Peter Fry and Yvonne Maggie about quotas in universitiesSimon’s Blog

In relation to the ethnic issue, it is absolutely necessary that the Brazilian republican society recognizes the discrimination that happened since the country’s foundation, and proposes effective solutions to solve this debt. Nevertheless, solutions restricted to the access to universities, without being extended to other institutions and / or spaces of the society in order to create real opportunity for formation of a new elite, and ensure the participation of this contingent in the decision process of the Brazilian society, seems like a populist incoherence, or like a demagogic simplification. What justifies that quotas won’t be used in other public contests, for governmental jobs for example? And for teaching posts at the public university? Why are the other republican powers excluded from the quota policies? How to explain the absence of racial quotas in the composition of the judiciary? And the members of congress, the ones that should represent the Brazilian society profile?
Gustavo Balduino’s article , linked in O Olho Dínamo

Another interesting way in which blogs activate the dynamic around the issue is by the reporting of events, speeches and debate panels that occur throughout the country (and also the absence of needed debate), revealing the regional perspectives that the topic evokes.

What differentiates good from bad decisions… are the different perceptions about the present scenery (and the motivations that shape that view), upon which decisions are made, and also the varying capacity in capturing its antecedents. Around these points, on the panel “The ethnic-racial quotas system” that happened yesterday at UFRGS, we saw the prevalence of the defenders of the quotas regime. In line with Onir Araújo, I am against the government proposal which reserve sub-quotas to blacks and indians from the main 50% quota to public school attendants. I am in favor of a system of direct quotas to blacks and mestizos.
Racial quotas and the scandalized democracy” – blog O Olho Dínamo

The ‘Rede Globo’ (biggest Brazilian tv broadcast network), in its news show ‘Jornal Nacional’ (the highest audience throughout the country) , criticized the project that establishes quotas in Brazilian universities for public school students, and also to blacks and indians: the ‘civically impaired’. The anchor announced that the broad debate that such issue deserves was not happening and the hurry to approve the law was an irresponsable and populist move from the government. As a disastrous dialectic partisan, the ‘Jornal Nacional’ interviewed two persons: an antropologist, against the quotas, and a representative from the PSB of the Espirito Santo state — who was for the first time appearing in national network — also against the quotas. Where is the debate? If Globo is really interested in a broad debate about quotas with the society, including politicians and members of the academy, why can’t it just happen? Why the debate has never occurred at a level, for example, of replacing the idiocy of the Big Brother show in the Brazilian living room?
Part of the article by Lelê Teles, in “One note debate” – blog Cyrano disse

Yes, debate is surely happening online. It is lively, and in real time. And it is introducing a very civil way of entering the heat of political discourse. The flow of posts coming and going is drawing new participants, and originating new forms of political discourse. Bloggers are not afraid of having opinions, and even changing them, as we can see in this post by ‘Liberal, Libertarian, Libertine‘:

I was against quotas. However, after six months of intense reading, I am reverting the opinion I had before. From now on, I go along with quotas. Basically what changed my mind was the following perception: the damaging effects of slavery continue to affect the descendants of its direct victims. I agree that quota policies create a series of other operational problems, which are described in my original post, and also in this one. To intervene in a merit system that works, is like introducing a new species in a complex ecosystem: you never know exactly what will happen. Basically, we are creating a new injustice to repare an old one. It always ends up in shit. But, once we decided the filosofical question, there is really no option. The operational problems will have to be solved afterwards, maybe tentatively and with error. By now, can anyone tell me WHY the afrodescendants do NOT deserve reparation from slavery?
In favour of quotas” – Liberal, Libertário, Libertino

We will be following-up the evolution of the topic. The available links in this post are already a good route for anyone interested in being updated, and the invitation to participate is almost undeniable.

(*) Frei David Santos, from Educafro, tells us that 30 universities in Brazil already adopt the system of reserving places. The configuration of the quotas varies in the percentages given to public school students, blacks and indians. One example is UnB, which reserves 20% of places to students who presents themselves as blacks. On the same line, the Federal University of Bahia(UFBA) reserves 40% of places to blacks who comes form the public school system, the Federal University of Pará (UFPA) destinates 50% for students of public schools, from which 40% are for blacks, and the Federal University of Paraná (UFPR) reserves 20% of the places to the students of public schools and 20% for blacks. (**) This post was inspired by “O debate online sobre cotas raciais” by Fabio Malini