Their names are Mayandson, Mariene and Thaïsa, 22, 24 and 21 years old. Tonight they will present their analysis of the novel in front of their comrades and the professor, an exam that will count toward their letter license in six months. They are not ordinary students and they do not study at an ordinary university. They are the first in the family to go for higher education.
And at 6 p.m., that is, when the 4-hour course begins, they already have a day’s work behind them. Mayandson and Mariene will go home at night. They live about forty kilometers northwest of Rio. More than an hour’s chaotic bus ride.
Mayandson lives in one of the most violent favelas in Rio, with a population of 15,000, where gangs of drug dealers battle local self-defense militias for territory.
“Sometimes I couldn’t come to class because there was shooting everywhere,” he says. The neighborhood of Mariene also lives nearby under militia control. There are no title deeds, no water treatment, no legal electricity in these pockets of poverty. Militias replace failing utilities, pull cables, encourage residents to hand out gas canisters. Heavily armed, they engaged in frequent urban guerilla fights, which often ended in death, even among the inhabitants. In Rio, more than 4 million people suffer from their law.
Mayandson and Mariene have been traveling from one world to the other five times a week for almost four years to pursue their dream of becoming a teacher. Taisa too. But his family lives 150 km away, too far for him to return. The scholarship recipient shares university accommodation with seven other girls.
They all benefit from the quota policies (race, low income) that the left put in place under Lulu, which allowed hundreds of thousands of blacks, mestizos, and low-income family members to get higher education.
The Federal Rural University of Rio de Janeiro, where they are taking their course, applies this policy. It was created in an open field for training in professions related to the countryside: veterinary, biology, agronomy, animal reproduction, etc., it welcomes 30,000 students, of which almost 60% entered it thanks to quotas. This university, like no other, has also created an evening schedule for young people who have to work to live. Finally, it expanded the scope of its disciplines to include the humanities (literature, philosophy, etc.).
However, since Jair Bolsonaro came to power, the atmosphere has changed. “It used to be an honor when a family member went to university, says Mariene. Now we’re looked at askance.” The president’s well-oiled propaganda has convinced many families that universities, and especially the humanities, are breeding grounds for leftists and moral laxity. His obsession was therefore to bring them into line by drastically cutting their budget. Federal public universities were the most affected, some of which lost a quarter or even a third of their subsidies.
“These cuts prevent the increase of seats, the replacement of teachers, the increase of research projects and scholarships for a country that claims to have free thinking,” says Cleo Manhas of the Institute for Socio-Economic Development. Brasilia.
With 5 million students spread over 200 universities in the country, the issue of education is one of the main topics of the presidential election.
Mayandson, Mariene and Thaïsa, who tenaciously continued their studies despite their difficulties, fear above all for the preservation of Bolsonaro. He called the quota system “mistakes” and wants to strengthen the private sector and enforce the evangelical churches’ stranglehold on education.