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UFRRJ Nova Iguaçu: First Impressions

UFRRJ Nova Iguaçu: First Impressions

Yesterday was my first day on the Nova Iguaçu campus of the University Federal Rural de Rio de Janeiro. I traveled to the campus from Copacabana with Dean Dr. Alexandre Fortes and one of his graduate students. Stepping out of the car, I noticed the big metal letters in front of the university: UFRRJ. Dr. Fortes walked me to the Centro de Informática (CEDIM), a room full of computers, where I met another history graduate student, Maria Lúcia. After conversing with me about my project, Maria Lúcia gave me a tour of the campus.

The campus rises three stories high and is built in the shape of an H. There is a large ramp system that splits the middle of four large blocks of class rooms and offices. There are also stairs that provide access to each wing. Dr. Fortes’s office is on the northwest side of the building on the third floor. The CEDIM room is on the southwest side on the second. I spent most of my time yesterday between these two rooms. Another important wing of the building is the northeast side. On the first floor there is a large cafeteria where students gather for lunch dinner. Lunch and dinner tickets cost only 45 cents for students. They are much more administers and faculty, but at $11.00 RS they are still a good deal. Above the cafeteria there is a library for the university. I did not have the chance to visit the library yesterday because it was closed and the website was also down. On the first floor, an auditorium for student gatherings takes up most of the southwest wing. Yesterday, for the first time, evangelical Christian students met in the auditorium for a worship service from 7-9. Although there are not many extracurricular activities and groups available to students, as Maria Lúcia told me, the auditorium provides an open space for groups to meet.

The grounds surrounding the main building are another point of interest. In front of the school there is a small amusement park. Its carnivalesque colors and metal roller coasters contrast with the austere building that it shields from the main street. Geraldo, who manages the university’s grounds and transportation, told me that the school recently bought the amusement park and has plans to tear down the rides and build a library for the university and the community; Nova Iguaçu does not have a local public library. Plans for improving the school and local community is a trend on campus. In the back of the university, they are currently constructing a new building for classrooms and offices. Maria Lúcia explained that as the university’s student body grows, it is becoming more difficult to find classrooms to accommodate all of the people. If the university is to expand physically in terms of classroom space, there is also the possibility of providing additional extracurricular resources for students. To the east of the campus there are basketball courts and a swimming pool. These spaces belong to the municipality, but the administration wants to look into contracting the space to use for some of its activities. It may be years before construction plans are completed and the school can provide additional spaces for recreation, but in the meantime students work with what they have—access to education, technology, and a first-rate cafeteria.

Lunchtime at the cafeteria was a different experience than what I am accustomed to in the U.S. Instead of a room with many individual stations of different sorts of food and a salad bar, servers provided one meal of rice and beans, spaghetti, meatballs and sauce, salad and fruit. I was amazed by how good the food tasted, especially for the quantity of people being served. Maria Lúcia commented that students from other UFRRJ campuses always like to visit the Nova Iguaçu campus because of the food, which she believed was better than in many of the restaurants nearby. Cafeteria culture was much like what you would see in the United States, with friends sitting with friends, except the notorious self-segregation that happens in the States was notably absent; there were no tables of people all of one color or ethnic group.

After lunch, I spent the rest of my time meeting people and talking with faculty and some of Dr. Fortes’s students. I also visited Dr. Fortes’s graduate history class. I was interested to know whether graduate teaching was different in Brazil than in the United States. The class, a history seminar, was about British Marxist historians. It began with three students’ presentations on books that the class had read. Then there was a general discussion of the books, capitalism and Marxism. I decided that the teaching style was very much like what I was used to in the United States. The seminar lasted for three hours and students hung around afterward to talk with each other and the professor. I left for dinner again in the cafeteria before heading to the hotel.

Some of the questions that I want to explore this week are:

1.       How are technology rooms like CEDIM used on campus? And, who has access to them?

2.       What is campus culture like—especially in the evenings after dinner when most of the students attend classes?

3.       If there aren’t many extracurricular groups, is there space for more in the future?

4.       How do students think about race, racial relations on campus and affirmative action?

5.       What source of pedagogical changes are taking place at this university? What sort of discussions are professors having about pedagogy?

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