In the fall of 2013, Duke University announced the new humanities lab, Global Brazil. As one component of the lab, the Duke Brazil Initiative fosters connections between Duke and universities in Brazil. Undergraduate students, graduate students, and professors were invited to propose projects that would forge cultural and intellectual exchange between Duke and Brazilian universities. The proposals were due in January of 2014 and awards were granted in the spring so that students could complete their projects over the summer and fall of 2014.
As one of the recipients of a DBI grant, I am currently in Brazil for two and a half weeks to study inequality in access to technology and the use of technology in the university setting. In studying these topics, I aim to specifically examine race, color, and race-based discrimination as factors that motivate and maintain educational and social inequality. While Brazil has the largest African diaspora in the world, people who are visibly of African descent are disproportionately among the poorest people in the country. As I research the digital divide in Brazil, I am aware that class and race go hand in hand. I’m interested to learn how the use of technology in Brazilian educational systems addresses and perhaps helps to assuage race-based social inequalities.
My project has diverged from my original proposal, and has become more specifically focused on the state of Rio de Janeiro, where I will visit two universities: the Universidade Federal Rural de Rio de Janeiro (UFRRJ) at Nova Iguacu and the Universidade Federal Fluminense in Niteroi, RJ. At both of the universities, I will meet with faculty and students to discuss the use of technology in the classroom and how the universities’ administrations see technology playing a role in solving educational disparities in Brazil. When appropriate, I will also sit in on classes and talk about some of the initiatives that have taken place on Duke’s campus such as the PhD lab in Digital Knowledge, and the two classes led by Dr. Cathy Davidson in 2013 and 2014: 21st Century Literacies (2013) and The History and Future of Higher Education (2014). Additionally, I’ve been invited to share my experiences of race and racism in university campuses in the United States with a class taught by one of my Brazilian faculty mentors Rolf Malungo de Souza at a third university.
My interest in this topic is motivated by my work in Afro-Latin American history, Portuguese language study, and the Ph.D. Lab in Digital Knowledge at Duke. I began to study race relations in Latin America as an undergraduate at Yale University, where I also took numerous Spanish language classes and studied abroad in the Dominican Republic. In my senior year, I began classes in Portuguese and continued Portuguese language study during my second year of graduate school. In 2012, I received a FLAS to study Portuguese in Rio de Janeiro over the summer and 2012-2013 academic year. Since matriculating at Duke in the History Ph.D. program, I’ve also taken a number of classes on the African Diaspora in Latin America, including Dr. John French’s Afro-Brazil graduate class (fall 2011). Working with the Ph.D. Lab at Duke, I’ve learned about changes in higher education and have thought about such changes within the context of historic social inequalities (see my blog on the History and Future of Higher Ed and my chapter in Fieldnotes (2013)). It is my hope that this current project funded by the DBI will not only allow me to merge my interests in higher education and the Afro-diaspora in Latin America, but it will also teach me a lot about how Brazilians are thinking about the future of higher education and are using technology in the classroom in innovative ways. It is my belief that as education changes in the U.S., we must strive harder to break down traditional barriers of exchange in order to internationalize our thoughts about what is possible in the educational realm.
As part of the Duke Brazil Initiative grant, I will be blogging about this research project and my travels and observations in Brazil. As much as possible, I would like to foster more dialogue about what types of changes are taking place in educational systems outside of the United States. Please add to the discussion by posting comments and responses.