Race, History & Health in Brazil

Street in Brazil

Race, History & Health in Brazil

Learn about the interconnections between race and racism, history and politics, and health and inequality in Brazil's Afro-diasporic communities.
Location: Salvador, Brazil
Language of Instruction: English
Term: Winter Break
Program Type: Faculty-led
Open to non-KU Students: Yes
Fulfills KU Core 4.2: No
Fulfills KU Core 5: No

  • Learn about the legacies of African slavery and the rich history of Afro-Brazilians in Brazil
  • Understand how Afro-Brazilian cultural elements such as religion, education, music, and capoeira intersect with Salvador's contemporary health landscape
  • Earn three credits in AAAS, GIST, HIST, HNRS, LAC, or PORT and potentially complete a KU Core Goal.

Brazil has a long and extensive history of African enslavement, and in the coastal city of Salvador, African influences are strong and palpable. A large diaspora from different regions of Africa was formed during the colonial period, and this has led to the constant expression--and celebration--of an African heritage in Salvador. Today, Afro-Brazilian cultural elements in music, religion, and capoeira, an Afro-Brazilian art form, are now realities around the world.

Brazil's legacies of slavery, colonialism, and segregation, along with its stark socio-economic inequalities, have disproportionately affected the health and well-being of its Afro-Brazilian communities. At the same time, the country is known for its leadership in universalizing access to healthcare, including life-saving HIV treatments. Grassroots activists and organizations operate both alongside of and in opposition to state responses to ongoing epidemics, including COVID-19. Brazil's therapeutic landscape is further complicated by a sophisticated system of traditional medicine that serves as alternative and complementary treatments to widespread biomedical options. The country-and especially the city of Salvador--is thus a critical location for the study of race, history, and health.

Brazil is the largest country in South America and is often compared to the U.S. due to its considerable African Diasporic population and a past shaped by centuries of racism. Salvador, located in the state of Bahia, is the city with the largest Afro-descendant population outside of Africa.

The architecture, food, music, religions, and culture of Salvador, the third largest city in Brazil, have fused European, African, and indigenous elements. The city's historic center is famous for its beautiful cobblestone streets and colonial buildings in the Renaissance, Baroque, and Art Deco styles. UNESCO declared it a World Heritage Site in 1985.

Three hours of academic credit are granted by the University of Kansas upon successful completion of the program and will be posted to the student's KU transcript as a Spring course. Undergraduate students will enroll in one of the following courses: AAAS 496 (meets KU Core Goal 6.1), GIST 304, HIST 450, HNRS 492, LAC 302, or PORT 300 (meets KU Core Goal 4.2). Graduate students will enroll in PORT 785 or AAAS 760.

The group will meet several times virtually or in-person before going to Brazil and once upon return. Readings will include essays about Afro-Brazilian history, and in particular Bahia's African roots and legacy, the country's public health policies and how they affect Afro-Brazilian communities, and the therapeutic dimension of Afro-Brazilian art such as music and capoeira.

Students will live with host families to experience daily life in the vibrant, historic city of Salvador. One or two students will be placed with each host family. Families will provide three meals daily. Students will walk or take public transportation to class.

Program activities will enhance the students' understanding of the history and culture of Afro-Brazilians in Brazil, and especially Salvador. Guest lectures from Brazilian experts will discuss topics such as the nation's history, health, politics, music, religion, education, and Carnival. Planned site visits include temples of Afro-Brazilian religions such as candomblé and syncretic Catholic churches such as Church of Our Lady of the Black Rosary, public hospitals, and community health initiatives. The group will enjoy music classes from Afro-Brazilian percussion groups, visit the Afro-Brazilian museum and attend capoeira, samba, and other Afro-Brazilian dance classes and concerts. These activities will focus on the interplay of race and health to better understand the lived experiences and rich past of Afro-Brazilians.

Other planned cultural activities include a guided tour of Salvador, an excursion to the city of Cachoeira to learn about its African heritage, and a visit to the beach in Arembepe.

SAGE is dedicated to creating international engagement opportunities that meet the needs of all our students and providing resources to support you through the process of studying abroad. Study abroad is achievable for students of all identities including our BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ students, students with disabilities, and students with religious/non-religious viewpoints. Before selecting a program, consider how your identities may impact your experience abroad in unique ways and talk with your Program Coordinator about any program-specific concerns. Students with documented disabilities should discuss any accommodation needs with their Program Coordinator early in the planning process.

Additional Resources

Check our Identity Abroad page and resources listed below for information specific to you and other students who may be on your program.


Minimum 2.5 GPA required (exceptions considered after submission of a petition). The program is open to students of any major. There is no language requirement, though students with previous exposure to Portuguese or Spanish will find it helpful.

KU partners with ICR Brasil to offer this program and ICR Brasil requires that all participants are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

The two KU faculty members co-leading the program are Luciano Tosta, Associate Professor in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese and Director, Center for Global & International Studies and Elizabeth MacGonagle, Associate Professor in the Departments of History and African & African-American Studies.

Professor Tosta is a scholar of race and ethnicity who specializes in the cultures of the Americas, particularly focused on Afro-Brazilian culture. He is from Salvador and has led numerous study abroad programs there. Contact Professor Tosta at lucianotosta@ku.edu.

Professor MacGonagle is a historian whose research examines the legacies of slavery in Africa and its Diaspora. Her work explores connections of history, memory, and race in Lusophone settings such as Brazil, Mozambique, and Portugal. Professor MacGonagle has previously co-led this program. Contact Professor MacGonagle at macgonag@ku.edu.


Passport and Entry Requirements

All U.S. citizens must have a valid passport to enter Brazil and the U.S. Department of State recommends it is valid for six months beyond the return date. For students who need to apply for an adult passport, please view the processing times and request one soon. KU Study Abroad & Global Engagement has a Passport Center where students can apply for a U.S. passport.

Non-U.S. citizens are responsible for understanding their entry requirements. Read more about visas and entry requirements on the website of the Consulate General of Brazil in Houston, which has jurisdiction over Kansas. It can take several weeks for the visa to be issued plus mailing time if working with a visa processing agency. Please plan accordingly. Please contact the program coordinator with questions.