Center for Latin American Studies Hosts Annual Brazil Week Celebration
The Center for Latin American Studies (CLAS) hosted its eighth annual Brazil Week September 9-13, with faculty and students from around Vanderbilt taking part in the celebration.
CLAS began in 1947 as the Institute for Brazilian Studies, the first center of its kind in the United States. Then-Chancellor Harvie Branscomb was seeking a way for Vanderbilt to build international connections in the wake of World War II, and the university seeded its new institute with a Carnegie Corporation grant. Founding faculty members from the Departments of Sociology, History, Economics, and Portuguese established a tradition of interdisciplinary collaboration that continues to this day.
Brazil Week began as a way to honor the legacy of those early faculty and Branscomb’s vision. Each year, the event focuses on a theme highlighting challenges or issues that are important to Brazil. This year’s theme was “Justice & Equity.” Seminars covered topics of slavery and reparations, HIV/AIDS, and Afro-Brazilian history. The discussions were truly trans-institutional, led by faculty from the College of Arts and Science, the Medical Center, and Peabody College.
“Interdisciplinarity has always been at the core of who we are and what we do,” said Assistant Director of CLAS Nicolette Kostiw, who organizes Brazil Week. “This event introduces multiple perspectives on an issue and generates interesting discussions that transcend disciplinary boundaries. In this way, we connect directly to—and strive to continually build upon—the mission of the College of Arts and Science.”
In addition to academic seminars, the week included a study-abroad roundtable featuring students who traveled to Brazil during the 2018-2019 academic year. Tam Wheat, a double major in Political Science and Spanish and Portuguese, studied in Rio de Janeiro and completed an immersive language program in São Paulo on a CLAS-administered federal Foreign Language Area Studies (FLAS) grant. Stacy Horton, a double major in Latin American Studies and Cinema and Media Arts, received CLAS’s Simon Collier Travel Award and conducted research among indigenous communities in the Amazon basin. And Michaela Peterson, an Earth and Environmental Sciences Ph.D. student, used a CLAS Summer Research Award and funding from her own department to complete a rainforest field study of white-lipped peccaries.
Studying in Brazil is “an amazing experience where you’re going to meet a lot of friends as well as Brazilian connections. It exposes you to new opportunities and new differences in culture, and you get a lot of nuanced perspectives from the students and professors and the environment,” said Wheat.
Brazil Week also included several events focused on Brazilian culture. Wednesday night featured a screening of the 2009 documentary Only When I Dance, a film about two teenagers who dream of escaping Rio’s favelas through careers as professional ballet dancers. Thursday night, a group of 45 students took turns helping to prepare traditional Brazilian foods—tapioca, açai, and pão de queijo—while learning about the dishes’ connection to Brazil’s history and culture.
CLAS sponsors more than 100 events each year to educate the Vanderbilt community and the general public about Latin America. For more information, see the program website.