Earlhamites study urban violence, affirmative action in Brazil | Earlham College Skip to Content

Earlhamites study urban violence, affirmative action in Brazil

March 28, 2019

Paloma Collazo-Vargas ’19 grew up in a Santa Cruz, California, household where higher education and air travel were seemingly out of reach.

That all changed when colleges started showing interest in her.

“My guidance counselor recommended Earlham but it wasn’t initially my first choice,” Collazo-Vargas says. “When I visited and saw everything they had to offer, I was convinced that Earlham was the place. I am the first in my family to attend college and I thought the best way to grow was to get as far away from what you know as possible.”

She says she made the right decision. As an International Studies major with an emphasis on Latin America, Paloma was encouraged by her professors to travel the world. That resulted in trips that took her further across the United States and to another continent when she enrolled in Earlham’s semester-long off-campus program in Jordan. Most recently, she participated in an EPIC Term to Brazil for a three-week study on the advancements of Afro Brazilians, one of the many fully funded opportunities available to students through the EPIC initiative.

“It was a very eye-opening experience for me,” she says of the three-week trip across the country. “Growing up in a bilingual Latino household, I always viewed Brazilians as progressive when it came to issues related to race. What I learned was that there was such a huge disparity between blacks and whites. Afro Brazilians make up a huge percentage of the population and they don’t live in the nice cities. They don’t live in the downtown. They don’t have the same access to education, just like in the United States.”

EPIC is a four-year journey that integrates the academic major with transformative learning experiences that include research, study away, internships, and leadership development, to prepare students exceptionally well for life beyond Earlham.

The EPIC Advantage, the offer of about $5,000 to every student can be applied towards EPIC Terms in places like Brazil, or to support internships or research interests, and is a level of funding that few intuitions in the country can match. Earlham will offer 18 EPIC Terms in 2019 that will take students to countries like Iceland, China, Colombia, Sweden, Germany, Tanzania, Russia and Turkey.

In Brazil, Collazo-Vargas explored three cities — Brasília, Salvador and Rio de Janeiro — with eight other Earlham students and professor Cássio Muniz, a visiting professor on Earlham’s faculty in politics. The group studied topics ranging from urban violence to affirmative action and met with local leaders and key influencers in Afro Brazilian communities.

“We had a very diverse group of students from different majors, different backgrounds, even different countries, which added to the experience of navigating a new country and culture,” Muniz says. “Many of the students were traveling outside of the United States for the first time.”

In the capital of Brasília, the team visited with government officials and explored the country’s Senate archives while in Salvador they met with leaders from Quilombo communities that descended from escaped slaves. During the final stop in Rio de Janeiro, the students met with non-government organizations and grassroots organizations before visiting favelas, or low-income housing that dominate the neighborhoods outside of the city. The Earlham team arrived just months after the assassination of Rio de Janeiro councilwoman Marielle Franco, who was at the time the only black woman on the 51-member city council.

“We interacted with individuals and leaders who were friends or worked with Marielle and they reflected upon her legacy on social justice,” Muniz says. “Our interactions with high-level policy makers, community leaders, local students, scholars and common citizens provided my students with a transformative opportunity to understand not only racial relations in Brazil but also reflect upon race relations in their respective countries and in their role as world citizens.”

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Earlham College, a national liberal arts college located in Richmond, Indiana, is a "College That Changes Lives." We expect our students to be fully present: to think rigorously, value directness and genuineness, and actively seek insights from differing perspectives. The values we practice at Earlham are rooted in centuries of Quaker tradition, but they also constitute the ideal toolkit for contemporary success. We rank 7th nationally by Princeton Review for Best Classroom Experience and 22nd by U.S. News and World Report for commitment to undergraduate teaching.

Brian Zimmerman is director of media relations at Earlham College. He can be reached at 765-983-1256 and zimmebr@earlham.edu.


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