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University policy

Embracing differences

New management at UNICAMP will bring together initiatives for the promotion of human rights among students, professors, and employees

Bernardo França

The University of Campinas (UNICAMP) created a structure dedicated to communicating policies for tolerance, citizenship, and inclusion within its academic community. The Executive Commission for Human Rights was installed on March 26th during the meeting of the University Council and is connected with the Office of the Dean. “We want to act in a cohesive manner to promote and value human rights within and outside UNICAMP,” confirms historian Néri de Barros Almeida, professor at the Institute of Philosophy and Human Sciences (IFCH) at the university and director of the new commission. “The idea is to improve existing initiatives and foster the development of new strategies, procedures, and practices of inclusion, equity, accessibility, as well as prevention of harassment, discrimination, and sexual violence.”

The commission will coordinate the work of five advisory committees that were created in the last two years and which have already been working independently. One of them is charged with promoting ethno-racial diversity and last year directed the decision of the university and of the Technical College of Campinas (COTUCA), connected to UNICAMP, to adopt ethno-racial quotas in their selection processes. Of the 3,386 students that passed the UNICAMP entrance exam, 1,293 (38.2%) were black or brown, with almost half of them (48.7%) from public schools, while indigenous students represented 2.1% of those accepted. According to Almeida, the commission should invest in initiatives that support the fight against racism, promoting respect for differences, and valuing diversity.

On another front, since the end of 2017, a committee has dedicated itself to the creation of policies to combat sexual violence and discrimination based on gender and sexual preference. These are two key problems faced by educational institutions worldwide and which represent, in some cases, more than half of human rights violations in the academic setting. “We are going to form a service department that specializes in victims of violence, harassment, or sexual discrimination,” explains Almeida, who is also head of the UNICAMP Observatory of Human Rights, another committee that is part of the infrastructure of the new commission.

The Executive Commission for Human Rights will also coordinate the work of the Advisory Committee for Accessibility, which for some years has invested in projects to increase mobility and access to equipment and materials for studies and research by people with disabilities on the university campus. The committee will also carry out studies to identify critical factors to submit future proposals to change the structures of buildings, sidewalks, squares, and gathering spaces within the institution.

Another situation to be addressed by the new commission is that of the United Nations Sérgio Vieira de Mello Professorship. Since 2003, the UN has worked to promote education, research, and academic outreach for refugee populations, in partnership with Brazilian universities and the National Committee for Refugees (CONARE), the agency of the Ministry of Justice that is responsible for analyzing requests and recognizing the circumstances of refugees in Brazil. Almeida says that UNICAMP began to integrate the professorship in September 2017 and, since that time, has been promoting the academic qualification and training of professors and students on this subject.

International experiences
As explained by physicist Marcelo Knobel, chancellor of UNICAMP, the Executive Commission is following an international trend. “In recent years, universities in various countries have begun to invest in the creation of offices dedicated to the development and implementation of policies to stimulate appreciation for the principles of respect for cultural diversity, defense of equal opportunity and human dignity, and cultivation of solidarity,” he says.

Many of these universities are located in countries of the northern hemisphere, such as the United States, United Kingdom, and Canada. Canadian universities, such as those of Waterloo and Ottawa, as well as Queen’s University, some time ago established offices dedicated to the promotion of human rights. The Centre for Human Rights at the University of Essex in the United Kingdom is considered one of the largest and most well-established in Europe, having brought together a community of students, including those who have won scholarships, 2,000 alumni, more than 100 professors and researchers from 11 disciplines, and partners. The promotional initiatives include: workshops, meetings, flyer distribution, studies, university counselling services, and training sessions on topics such as sexual harassment, diversity, and inclusion.

These offices also develop and distribute manuals on the prevention of human rights violations among students, professors, and employees, as well as policies on the inclusion, welcoming, and retention of transgender students and researchers, individuals who self-identify with a gender different from their biological one, for example. According to Almeida, in cases of noncompliance with the university’s rules of conduct, the new commission is proposing to, wherever possible, adopt a practice of restorative dialogue, rather than a punitive approach. The idea is to have an intermediator resolve conflicts such that the relationship between the victim and the accused is reestablished. “We hope that this will enable the victim to feel compensated, while the accuser understands the situation, recognizes his/her behavior, and adopts a position that is aligned with the rules of conduct,” she explains. She realizes that this approach may not be sufficient in more serious cases involving racial or sexual harm, for example. That is why punishments, such as expelling students and firing professors and employees, have not been discarded.

According to Knobel, in Brazil it is common for universities to have hubs, centers, or commissions that promote and affirm human rights. In a self-assessment, the Executive Commission for Human Rights differentiates itself from these initiatives as they intend to promote actions in an orchestrated manner. “Any educational or research institution that seeks to be among the best in the world needs to cultivate a concern for the promotion of education on human rights from an intercultural, critical, and emancipatory perspective, which aims to discuss issues related to equality and to differences within the university community,” he argues.