“I come from a favela in São Paulo and I grew up here. I didn’t really know a lot about the city until I got a scholarship when I was 11 at a high school in the city center. The fact that I got that scholarship in that specific school made me enter a process that took years and is still developing: understanding how my world and the injustices that I’ve seen growing up are related to a system that had to do with my city and disparities within my city. I think it was with this mindset that I went to Dartmouth to study sociology.
At Dartmouth, I have tried hard to think about these challenges from an academic perspective. During my first year, I took a class on politics of domestic work in the United States and Latin America. Taking that class was just revolutionary because for the first time, I stopped to think of my own experiences as the son of a domestic worker and the experiences of my mother. I realized that they were worthy of academic attention and inquiry, as something political and social. Now, I am working on my own research project that will be my senior honors thesis, on the effects of legislation on wellbeing of domestic workers in São Paulo. My mom’s name is Maria Sandra, and she’s the reason that I’m doing this project in the first place. She started working as a domestic worker in São Paulo, the big city. She has worked since 12 and was diagnosed with depression when she was 14. In my house, neither she nor I ever started to consider how her mental illness was connected to a history of a lot of abuse and a lack of access to basic human rights.
I want to inquire how these things that we sometimes talk about in such medical terms such as mental health or mental illness are related to a social context and our society.
This project has been a chance for me to connect and examine the place where I live with my cultural baggage and academic skills. In 20 years, I hope to begin a career of using research as a tool for social change, civic engagement, and political impact, whether it’s through a social research lab, research project, or government agency.
I can’t point to a specific moment in my life where I had some sort of epiphany of my role towards poverty alleviation, but getting the chance of entering these different spaces has given me this perspective. This has pushed me to question these inequalities and also think about what my role is as someone who is very privileged within these systems. What is the society that we are building and what are the consequences of these decisions that we are making as a society?”
Gustavo de Almeida Silva is a King Scholar at Dartmouth College (‘20). He majors in Latin American Studies and is originally from Brazil.