Professor Reber Dunkel, Ph.D. (sociology), Professor Alphine Jefferson, Ph.D. (history)
and 20 students traveled to Brazil as part of the college’s 2009 January Term (J-term)
program. While in Brazil, students visited “must see” tourist attractions such as
the magnificent Pão de Açúcar (Sugar Loaf) and Corcorvado (Hunchback) mountains,
the latter with the Christ the Redeemer statue high above Guanabara Bay and Rio’s
favelas (slums) and posh Ipanema beach far below.
We traveled by bus, aptly named Marcopolo, over 3000 miles roundtrip from Rio de
Janeiro to Salvador, Bahia. On the way we toured the Pataxó Indian Reserve
of Jaqueira, learning about ethnobotanical medicine and a variety of bird and animal
traps and joining in a tribal ritual dance. Another overnight stay in Ilheus allowed
a side trip to CEPLAC, the Brazilian national research center for cacao (cocoa),
located in the Atlantic Rain Forest, with the fringe benefit of seeing a sloth “infirmary”
and serpent laboratory.
The trip to Brazil was a vital component of Dunkel’s Globalization, the Environment
and Sustainable Development in Brazil and Jefferson’s Diasporic Connections
of the Atlantic System: Brazil and West Africa. Students saw
firsthand how the Brazilian society is unevenly articulated into the global economy.
In some ways Brazil is more advanced in terms of alternative energy and response
to climate change than the United States. On the other hand, a vast discrepancy
remains between urban and rural development, thus offering the challenge of simultaneously
addressing modern urban problems such as drugs and crime and traditional rural development
obstacles in providing services and infrastructure. And racial and ethnic equality
lag behind the vitality of the richly diverse population. Brazil, which has the
second largest population of African descent after Nigeria, provides a wonderful
opportunity to experience the historical and cultural legacy of the Diaspora—the
human population dispersion from the African continent.
While in Brazil, students kept journals, chronicling daily their observations and
reflections. Upon their return to campus, and as a culminating project, students
worked in groups of four or five to create thematic Web pages, combining text, photos
and audio. Their Web page projects provide a composite story of students’ pre-trip
expectations, their in-class studies and their travel experiences.