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Vânia Penha-Lopes, Ph.D.

Vânia Penha-Lopes 2.jpg


As young as five years of age, I would answer the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” as “A scientist, an English teacher, and a writer.” I don’t know where my prescience came from, but I am indeed all three. As a sociologist and anthropologist, I am a social scientist; I am trained as a teacher of English as a foreign language; and I started writing poems when I was eight years old.


At age 14, I decided to become an academic when I learned I could be paid to read and write. Before that, when I was about 11 years old, my mother planted in my head the idea of going to the U.S. for graduate work, after I had become proficient in English. She was keen on our getting a great education. She enrolled my sister and me in English lessons when we were pre-teens. When I was about 19 years old, I learned of a contest for a scholarship for study abroad, sponsored by the Encyclopaedia Britannica do Brasil; I was the youngest contestant among the winners. After I graduated with honors from the Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, I moved to New York City to enroll in a master’s program in anthropology. By the time I got to the U.S., I had won awards as the best student in all of the City of Rio de Janeiro at the English school we went to.


What was to be one year abroad turned into a lifetime. I went on to get a master’s degree in anthropology, another in sociology, and a Ph.D., also in sociology, all from New York University. I spent nearly two years at the University of Virginia as a dissertation fellow at the Carter G. Woodson Institute for Afro-American and African Studies. Subsequently, I went back to the northeast, where I am a professor of sociology at Bloomfield College, in New Jersey. My research and teaching areas are comparative race relations, social inequality and stratification, family, masculinities, identity formation, and social change.


Although I live and work in the U.S., I have maintained personal and professional ties to my native Brazil. Out of my research on the first quota graduates from the Universidade do Estado do Rio de Janeiro, I published two books: Pioneiros: Cotistas na Universidade Brasileira (2013) and Confronting Affirmative Action in Brazil: University Quota Students and the Quest for Racial Harmony (2017); My father’s presence at the party for my first book is one of my last memories of him. The policies had generated a lot of controversy and quota students were seen as undeserving. I was interested in hearing from the students how they dealt with all that. In 2015, I co-edited Religiosidade e Performance: Diálogos Contemporâneos with Marcia Contins and Carmen Rocha, also in Brazil, a collection of articles on religiosity and identity as they take place in Brazilian urban areas today.


Writing is my passion. Be it about sociology, day-to-day life in the U.S. and Brazil, or about Botafogo—the Lone Star team for which I root with all my heart—I am happiest when I am putting my thoughts on paper or to a computer screen.

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