Their names are Mayandson, Mariene and Thaïsa, they are 22, 24 and 21 years old. Tonight, in front of his classmates and professor, he will present his analysis of the novel, an exam that will be counted toward obtaining a license in letters, 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 to higher education.
And at 6 p.m., at the beginning of the 4-hour course, they already have a full day’s work behind them. Mayandson and Mariene will go home in the night. They live about forty kilometers northwest of Rio. More than an hour of chaotic bus ride.
Mayandson lives in one of Rio’s most violent favelas, with a population of 15,000, where gangs of drug dealers battle for territory with local self-defense militias.
“Sometimes I couldn’t come to class because there was shooting everywhere,” he says. Nearby, Mariene County also lives under militia control. In these pockets of poverty, there is no title deed, no water treatment, no legal electricity. Militias replace failed public services, pull cables, force residents to distribute gas canisters. Heavily armed, they participated in frequent urban guerilla wars, which often resulted in deaths, including among the population. In Rio, more than 4 million people suffer under their law.
Mayandson and Mariene traveled from one world to the other five times a week for nearly four years pursuing their dream of becoming teachers. Taisa too. But his family lives 150 km away, too far for him to return. A scholarship winner, she shares university accommodation with seven other girls.
They all benefit from the quota policies (race, low income) put in place by the left under Lula, which allowed hundreds of thousands of blacks, mestizos and members of low-income families to access higher education.
The Federal Rural University of Rio de Janeiro, where they follow their course, applies this policy. Created in the open for training in professions related to rurality: veterinary medicine, biology, agronomy, animal reproduction, etc., it receives 30,000 students, of which almost 60% entered thanks to quotas. This university like no other has also established an evening schedule of classes for young people who have to work for a living. Finally, he expanded the scope of his disciplines to the human sciences (literature, philosophy, etc.).
However, the atmosphere has changed since Jair Bolsonaro came to power. “Before, it was an honor when a family member went to university, says Mariene. Now we are looked at askance”. The president’s well-oiled propaganda has convinced many families that universities, and especially humanities departments, are breeding grounds for leftists and moral laxity. Therefore, his obsession was to get them in order by drastically cutting the budget. Federal public universities were the most affected, some of which lost a quarter or even a third of their endowments.
“These cuts prevent the increase of places, the replacement of teachers, the increase of research projects, the increase of scholarships for a country that claims to have free thought,” says Cleo Manhas, from the Institute of Socio-Economic Sciences Brasilia.
With 5 million students spread over 200 universities in the country, the issue of education is one of the main issues of the presidential election.
Mayandson, Mariene and Thaïsa, who persevered with their studies despite their difficulties, fear above all the maintenance of Bolsonaro. Describing the quota system as “mistakes”, he wants to strengthen the private sector and promote the congestion of evangelical churches in education.