Africology professor dines and discusses politics with Brazil’s Dilma Rousseff

Gladys Mitchell-Walthour, assistant professor of public policy & political economy in the Department of Africology, was a recent guest scholar at San Diego State University, where she attended the talk “The Future of Democracy in Brazil,” delivered by the country’s former president Dilma Rousseff. Mitchell-Walthour also attended a private dinner with Rousseff. Now on an international tour, Rousseff allegedly broke a budgetary law while serving as Brazil’s first female president. She was impeached and removed from office in August 2016.

Invited guest scholars attended the event from UW-Milwaukee, the University of Michigan, Florida International University, Rutgers and other universities.

A large group of people pose for a photo at a table.
Gladys Mitchell-Walthour (fourth from left) shared a dinner with Dilma Rousseff (seated, left), former president of Brazil. (Submitted photo)

Mitchell-Walthour says that Rousseff’s presidency is notable for more than its abrupt ending, including the president’s strong support for affirmative action policies in Brazil’s federal universities, which increased access to education for the nation’s Afro-Brazilian and indigenous students. Rousseff signed that legislation in 2012, and also increased funding for Bolsa Familia, a landmark social welfare program that has lifted millions of Brazilians out of poverty by increasing access to federally funded education and health resources for impoverished families and providing financial incentives to parents whose children are vaccinated and regularly attend school.

“The fact that Rousseff will run for senate and remains dedicated to democracy despite what she has experienced under dictatorship and democracy is remarkable,” said Mitchell-Walthour, author of “The Politics of Blackness: Racial Identity and Political Behavior in Contemporary Brazil” (Cambridge University Press, 2018).

Brazil is one of the globe’s 10 largest economies, valued at $2.9 trillion, according to current data from the International Monetary Fund.

“It’s a country that America can’t ignore and it’s important that scholars, especially Brazilianists, be engaged with the current state of Brazilian politics because it has an impact on the lives of our Brazilian colleagues,” said Mitchell-Walthour, who is president-elect of the Brazil Studies Association. “More importantly, politics impacts the lives of everyday citizens, especially low-income and marginalized people, women and Afro-Brazilians who are often excluded from the polity and who are often not included in the concept of citizen.”

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