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Mídria: Democratizing access to higher education through slam poetry

Mídria and three of her university friends created a social venture to transform how marginalized groups participate in higher education.
Mídria AYC Brazil 2019

Barriers to accessing various institutions, whether it be educational, financial, or political, drive changemakers to create equal opportunities for traditionally underrepresented and marginalized groups. Realizing the barriers to accessing culture and education, Mídria and her team organize poetic battles at a prestigious university in São Paulo, Brazil to transform how marginalized groups engage with higher education. Mídria’s story explains how democratizing access to traditional exclusive spaces creates inclusive and public access to knowledge for the good of all.

Growing up in the eastern outskirts of the city of São Paulo, Mídria da Silva Pereira, now 20, noticed social challenges facing those in her community. Distance from the city center meant barriers to education, less social and political participation, and less cultural interaction than those living in urban areas. Mídria felt her peripheral community was devoid of cultural activities, which she claims are essential to her own identity as a young black woman.

Mídria also grew up loving books and poetry. In high school, she frequently participated in Sarau do Vale, an organization that promotes cultural education in local schools that were devoid of cultural equipment. Now attending the University of São Paulo, or USP, she and three like-minded friends insisted on bringing minorities and communities from the periphery of the city into the university.

Together, the team co-founded USPerifa Collective to promote a culture of marginal-peripheral literature in their school through the slams, a compilation of spoken poetry. USP is one of the most prestigious institutions of higher education in Brazil, but Mirdria says “it carries a legacy of exclusion of the popular majority.”

In addition to a lack of information, geographic distance, and low quality public education, there are multiple symbolic and physical barriers between a university education and the general public. “Those who study at the best high schools get into university and this systematically excludes the people that come from public schools considering that generally, we have little access to information needed to pass the college entrance exam or even to take the prep course for the exam,” Mídria says, commenting on systematic disparities between communities in São Paulo.

In response, Mídria and her friends established their first USPerifa Collective cultural event to unite marginalized people and the university. Critical conversations through slam, Mídria claims, will promote resignification of the university to challenge its legacy of exclusion.

I think that a slam turns into this moment of release and to put out there the things that we witness in a way that can be shared and so collectively we can know the issues that are really problematic so we can drive change within the university.

Mídria says slam poetry enables young people to freely speak up and use their distinct voices, share their stories, experience full citizenship, and engage in collective healing and transformation. Poetry battles offer young people an outlet to discuss pressing social issues like sexism, racism, LGBTphobia, and class discrimination.

USPerifa Collective also opens a creative space for independent artists, students and non-students alike, to promote their work through the slams. Each month, over 1000 people join for the public engagement, and the number of participants from outside of the university increases every time. Counteracting social norms, people who are traditional excluded are participating in university culture.

As a result, Mídria and her team are changing the culture and attitude of university spaces, completely redefining how these spaces are occupied. “I think that a slam turns into this moment of release and to put out there the things that we witness in a way that can be shared and so collectively we can know the issues that are really problematic so we can drive change within the university,” Mídria argues.

In the next few years, Mídria hopes to see people who participate to also become organizers for slam events at other universities and changemakers. By expanding the organization’s influence, Mídria imagines larger, more inclusive spaces in higher education where slam poetry democratizes access to universities across the country.