While others are preparing for the 2016 Summer Olympics, a Duke research team is working in Rio de Janeiro to study the effects of the Brazilian government’s expansion of the university system.
As part of Duke’s Global Brazil Lab, students and faculty are working alongside Brazilian scholars and students at the Multidisciplinary Institute of the Federal Rural University of Rio de Janeiro. The team—which formed from a Bass Connections program—is residing and working in Baixada, a lower-income region in the city’s lowlands, to assess how changes to higher education will impact social mobility in the country.
“It’s an immersion experience, and we are in a region that is very different from any place that people would intentionally stop in," professor of history John French said. "The whole project is being conducted in Portuguese, and the students have a wonderful attitude about it.”
French along with Christine Folch, associate professor of cultural anthropology, are leading the project and serve as two of the three co-directors of the Global Brazil Lab in the Franklin Humanities Institute.
One of the Global Brazil Lab’s goals is to facilitate intercultural exchange between Duke students and their Brazilian colleagues. The Bass Connections team is working with approximately two dozen Brazilian students to acquire data, develop reports and discuss issues in the Brazilian cultural, social, environmental and political landscape.
“We are aiming to create strategic partnerships between Duke and Brazilian universities, U.S. scholars and Brazilian scholars and U.S. students and Brazilian students," French said.
The Lab was founded in 2014 with the intention of studying Brazil’s environmental resources, politics and culture. In the past two years, it has established partnerships with Brazilian universities and is working to study the country using a multidisciplinary approach.
“The Global Brazil Lab originated under the coming together of faculty from the natural sciences, social sciences and humanities who were convinced that Brazil was an exciting place to do research," French said.
Many of the Lab’s signature projects study the country’s arts. The Lab also sponsors courses and independent projects related to pop art and Brazilian cinema. According to French, the Nasher Museum of Art has accepted a proposal from Esther Gabara—E. Blake Byrne associate professor of romance studies and co-director of the Global Brazil Lab—to feature an exhibit that will showcase Latin American pop art in 2018.
The Global Brazil Lab’s courses, research projects and events have attracted students’ attention across the University.
“I started attending Global Brazil Lab lectures and was absolutely fascinated by how complex the country is racially, socially and politically," said Adair Necalli, a sophomore studying linguistics who is currently with the team in Rio de Janeiro. "I love the challenge of studying the country, and I appreciate having the chance to do a project like this. I wouldn’t be able to do it without the Global Brazil Lab.”
In the last academic year, the Global Brazil Lab in conjunction with the Duke Brazil Initiative—which is the administrative unit coordinating Duke’s efforts in Brazil—organized 38 public events ranging from performances to workshops. The events featured guest speakers, musicians, artists and academics from Brazil and attracted more than 1,300 people.
“The profile of Brazil at Duke is vastly higher than it has ever been. An enormous amount of excitement has been generated," French said.