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Agents of Change: Meet Sociology Professor Marcelo J. P. Paixão

Professor Marcelo J. P. Paixão

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Dr. Marcelo Paixão, associate professor at the Teresa Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies (LLILAS) and the Department of African and African Diaspora Studies, is a researcher on the racial inequality in Brazil and the Latin American region.

Before arriving at UT Austin in 2015, he spent the past 20 years teaching at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ). Between 2006 and 2015, he coordinated the Laboratory of Analysis of Economics, Historical, Social and Statistics of the Race Relation (LAESER), which proved invaluable in the decision-making process of adopting affirmative action in Brazil.

We caught up with Dr. Paixão to learn more about his research as well as his transition from Brazil to the U.S.

Leaving his home country of Brazil… In 2012, I came to the United States as a visiting scholar at Princeton, which included work on the Project Ethnicity and Race in Latin America (PERLA) and the book Pigmentocracy. My studies also took me to UT Austin to present at LLILAS. After returning to Brazil, I applied for a professorship and the rest is history. U.S. universities are such vibrant and challenging environments. Moreover, this is the capital of the world for debate and research on ethnic and racial relations. Thus far, I am happy and haven’t any reason to regret the move.

Studying racial inequity in Brazil… I produced and coordinated several studies on racial inequality, including the pioneer study that disaggregated the Human Development Index (HDI) of the racial groups in my country and revealed profound differences in socioeconomic conditions of whites, blacks, brown, and indigenous peoples in Brazil. Other studies analyzed and shed light on some important issues about racial inequality like violence, inequality in health and schooling, and access to higher education. For an American researcher, this may seem of little importance, but Brazil is a land of racial democracy, meaning that the perception is that there is not racism or discrimination. So when these studies outline not only the presence of racism, but its consequences on the social structure, we achieve great impact.

Taking in the academic lifestyle at UT… The quality of the researchers is what really drew me to UT. The campus is simply beautiful and the quality of graduate and undergraduate students and courses are superb as well. It’s also impossible to talk about the university without mentioning the city of Austin itself – this alternative and weird place really captivated me.

Differences between UFRJ and UT Austin… There are a lot of cultural differences. For example, in Brazil, the relationships between professor and student tend to be more informal. The work conditions also do not allow for the level of efficiency and creativity. Brazil is a developing country and historically, our government has not prioritized education. We lack materials and resources which inevitably affects the quality of our libraries, classrooms, and laboratories. But I am absolutely sure that in the future my country will be able to overcome these problems. We Brazilians are chronically optimistic!