This is a historical moment (at least for Brazilian architecture). When I was a student at the Faculty of Architecture and Urbanism of the University of Sao Paulo, we were only 150 students/year. Of these students, around 50 had a Japanese or Korean background and around 99 had an European or Syrian/Lebanese background. Only very few among us could be considered “mixed” race. On the other hand, there were 100 women to 50 men, which was great!
These numbers vary a lot from year to year, but in general, it was not easy for a black or indigenous person to enter the course. This is because architecture and urbanism is an incredibly competitive course at the University of Sao Paulo and those selected had had access to the best private education available (which generally excludes black and indigenous people in Brazil). A few of us had the luck to have attended exceptionally good public schools, as was my case and my friend’s Alessandro, for instance. Another supplementary barrier was the “drawing aptitude” test. This was a test of your drawing and spatialisation abilities. This seems like a very good idea, I agree, but in fact those who could afford would pay large sums of money to attend special prep courses, which I did with my friend Paulo.
Now the faculty has decided to implement affirmative action to include more people of Afro-Brazilian and Indigenous descent, which is an amazing step to make the school more diverse and rich of different life experiences. Those who believe in meritocracy decry affirmative action and believe the “best” students should be selected. In a normal democratic environment, I would agree. But Brazil suffers from chronic inequality and race bias and action needs to be taken to include people who face extraordinary hurdles in their education. So, before we would never know who the “best” students truly were, because the best students of African or Indigenous descent wouldn’t stand a chance. Now they do!