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Where are the black scientists?  – 11/19/2023 – Basic Sciences

Where are the black scientists? – 11/19/2023 – Basic Sciences

“But if we adopt quotas, we risk losing the standard Unicamp student.” I heard this phrase in 2015, in a lecture on affirmative action that I gave at the University of Campinas. At that time, a group of professors promoted positive policies in the institution’s graduate programs with the goal of increasing adherence to them. This phrase was said to me by a professor from a famous graduate program in the hard sciences, who seemed to me to be genuinely concerned about the quality of his students.

Next, I began an imprecise, unsystematic, and impressionistic investigation into the characteristics of the so-called “standard Unicamp student.” With each visit to an institute or graduate program, I would ask attendees about their characteristics. Intelligence, discipline, creativity, rigor, prudence, dedication, etc. The predicates were mentioned here and there. But there were two other features that caught my attention in this concept of the original Unicamp scholars.

Firstly, the implicit assumption that the “standard Unicamp student” has already been trained in the community and has only been able to be recognized by the university. In fact, postgraduate selection notifications usually go through several stages at all universities ranging from written test to CV analysis, from foreign language test to interview. This indicates an obsession, to some extent, with academic excellence. But the basic idea was not that it was up to the university to shape High-ranking cadres are even selected in society, as if their qualities were already given genetically.

Second, the logical conclusion was that the standard student at Unicamp was not black, because the university at that time was still predominantly white. Clearly, neither that professor nor any of the people I consulted informally believed in skin color as an indicator of intelligence. However, if the “standard Unicamp student” is anything like the ones you’ve seen on campus, he most certainly won’t be black.

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The obsession with academic talent not only makes selection processes ridiculously competitive and complex, but also biased. In a multi-stage selection process, in which many compete for a small number of places, it is very common to reach ties or near ties between some candidates. In these cases, the decision often involves exaggerating marginal qualities: “This candidate made better use of the crisis on the project,” or “This other candidate took a course in London,” or even “This candidate seemed calmer on the project.” Interview.” It’s not uncommon for side features like this to end up determining who gets in and who leaves.

In a patronizing estimate released by the Group for the Interdisciplinary Study of Affirmative Action (GEMAA), Black, brown, and indigenous people make up about 7.4% of graduate teachers in the hard sciences in Brazil, a country with a population of 56%. These groups. In some fields, such as earth sciences, it does not reach 4%. For those who know the halls of science, this fact is unfortunately not shocking: the more technologically advanced or cutting-edge a scientific institution is, the fewer black men and women there are within it.

“If the standard Unicamp student does not have a pre-assigned color, Unicamp is wasting countless students who are smart, disciplined, wise, etc., but were born poor and/or black.” That was my answer in that conversation eight years ago. Today, Unicamp has one of the most sophisticated and effective affirmative action systems for undergraduate and postgraduate studies in Brazil, and it appears to still be enjoying enviable performance and training excellent scholars, as have many other universities that have followed the same proposal.

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Diversification does not harm the production of quality science, on the contrary. It helps to expose false belief in moral notions of merit, thus improving his performance. Black scientists were born and exist in the world, and their inclusion in science remains.


Luiz Augusto Campos is Professor of Sociology at the Institute of Social and Political Studies of UERJ, Editor-in-Chief of the academic journal DADOS and Coordinator of the Interdisciplinary Study Group on Affirmative Action, GEMAA.

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