6th Favela Student Discussion Group: Rethinking the Relationship Between Universities and Favelas

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On June 8, the Museum of Life at the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation (Fiocruz) hosted the 6th Student Favela Resident Discussion Group—Pathways that Lead Universities to Favelas and Favelas to Universities. The event was the result of a project that brings together the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ) and organizations, community leaders, and students from Complexo da Maré and Manguinhos with the aim of amplifying the debate around the use of science as a tool for reducing inequality—one of the main themes of the 2018 National Science and Technology Week. The first two events took place at the Maré Museum in Complexo da Maré, the third at the Espaço Casa Viva, the fourth at UFRJ, and the two most recent at the Museum of Life.

Participants included representatives of the Maré Center for Solidarity Studies and Action (CEASM), the directorate of Fiocruz’s Social Cooperative, the Casa de Oswaldo Cruz, the Social Enterprise Network for Socially Just, Democratic, Integrated, and Sustainable Development (RedeCCAP), the Museum of Life, the Maré Museum, the Espaço Casa Viva, the National School of Public Health (ENSP), and the “Education, Health, and Culture in Communities of the Urban Periphery” project; students from Rio de Janeiro’s public universities (UFRJ, the Fluminense Federal University–UFF, and the State University of Rio de Janeiro–UERJ); and collaborators and professors from favelas.

Rethinking the Relationship Between Universities and Favelas

At previous discussion group meetings, three important focus areas emerged: programs that have been created in recent years as a result of public policies intended to increase access to higher education, communication issues that result from a lack of dialogue between universities and favelas, and income generation and the improvement of living conditions by way of education. With these themes in mind, the discussion covered topics including data collection on the trajectories of students from favelas following the completion of their studies and the obstacles that they face. Additionally, there was a presentation about the Marielle Franco Favela Dictionary project.

Stemming from these very relevant inquiries, participants proposed the creation of several working groups. José Leonídio Madureira de Sousa Santos explained that these working groups are for the purpose of carrying out “more in-depth research in order to better understand where these graduates from Maré and Manguinhos end up…the impact of these students’ presence in universities and what this says about their surroundings…and scientific research” that is carried out in favelas, about favelas, and for favelas. As such, the following working groups were created: a research group to more thoroughly understand the trajectories of university students from favelas; a mental health group to examine the psychosocial events of these educational processes; a communications group to reflect on existing forms of dialogue between universities and favelas and review new communication plans; and a social participation group to focus on strengthening conceptions of memory, place, and identity.

Among other upcoming projects, the group established a research day in recognition of the value of the knowledge produced in the communities of Maré and Manguinhos. The objective of such an event is to stand up against the discrimination, prejudice, racism, and criminalization to which favelas are subjected. Alessandro spoke about “the need to reaffirm these communities as places of knowledge and life, in contrast to all kinds of stereotypes [about favelas].”

Reconfiguring the Discussion Group to Meet New Aims and Demands

One of the main topics discussed at the sixth edition of the event was the reconfiguration of the discussion group format to instate the group as a permanent forum. While participation remains open to the public, this idea emerged as a result of the group’s development and growing cohesion as participants became increasingly close. The forum will continue to receive support from Fiocruz and UFRJ, both of which have committed to strengthening the proposed initiatives and to providing a basic structure so that the forum can continue to progress independently and consistently. Alessandro reminded participants of the importance of maintaining a “progressive outlook, [focused on] emancipating people and giving them autonomy.”

Furthermore, prior to establishing the forum, participants aim to produce a document to summarize the topics covered during previous events so as to keep a record of activities and facilitate outreach efforts. The participants agreed that the format of a forum gives the group a more formal and organic character. Participants intend for the forum to be recognized and respected by public, private and civil society institutions, though it will not have the status of a legal entity.

At the same time, the group discussed challenges surrounding its reconfiguration as a forum. Two important issues were highlighted: the establishment of partnerships with institutions that are either directly or indirectly connected to the realm of higher education—other universities like UERJ, private institutions, and university entrance exam preparatory courses—which are important sources of documents and information on graduates and current students; and the possibility of opening up the forum to the discussion of other issues related to territoriality. Fiocruz professor Enrique spoke about the importance of expanding the scope of the forum and looking at important questions, such as the reasons why universities have managed to reach certain favelas and not others. He cited City of God as an example of a favela where, in his opinion, education projects tend to lack continuity given the difficulty of implementation. On the other hand, UERJ student Jefferson Mesquita said that the group should maintain its focus on Manguinhos and Maré given that they share very similar daily realities and outlooks. For Mesquita, the ideal situation would be to connect with other favelas while concentrating primarily on Manguinhos and Maré.

Presentation of the Research Group’s Proposal

The research working group presented a proposal to gather all existing academic studies about Maré and Manguinhos and about the trajectories of university students from these two areas. Natália Fazzioni—a fellow at Fiocruz’s social outreach initiative and an active participant in the research group—explained that the first proposal would be to compile “an annotated bibliography of all the research that has already been carried out in Maré and Manguinhos by current or former university students from favelas.” To carry out this proposal, members of the working group are exploring different methodologies. They intend to model their approach based on the strategies utilized by community-based organization Instituto Raízes em Movimento, which similarly produced an annotated bibliography of studies on Complexo do Alemão. With regard to the second part of the proposal, concerning the compilation of information about the trajectories of university students from favelas, Fazzioni confirmed that the approach is guided by the notion of “by us, for us” as the idea is for the study to be carried out by the graduates who participated in the various discussion groups. The communication working group will move forward with this proposal with the aim of presenting the findings in an audio-visual format.

Analysis and Diagnosis of the Current Political Situation

At the end of the event, there was a moment to discuss the current political situation in Brazil. Participants cited examples of recent government actions that, they believe, signal the dismantling of social policies—such as Constitutional Amendment 95, passed in 2016, which froze federal primary expenditures for the next twenty years; Brazil’s Pension Reform; and the federal university budget cuts implemented by the Ministry of Education and Culture (MEC), partially blocking funding for the country’s 63 federal universities and 38 federal education institutes.

The discussion continued with the aim of becoming more organized as a group in order to face these new challenges with a focus on favelas, the demands of civil society, and, especially, university students from favelas.