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Tuesday, June 6, 2023

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Erika Robb Larkins Erika Robb Larkins

Olá to SDSU’s New Brazil Program Director

Erika Robb Larkins has lived half of her adult life in Brazil.
By Coleen L. Geraghty

The 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro are a fading memory, Brazil’s economy is in recession and the country’s current president, Michel Temer, stands accused of corruption.

“Right now is a challenging and compelling moment in Brazilian history,” said Erika Robb Larkins, the new director of San Diego State University’s J. Keith Behner and Catherine M. Stiefel Program on Brazil.

She should know. The assistant professor of anthropology and sociology has lived half of her adult life in Brazil. Growing up, she toured the country with her mother, who played in a Brazilian percussion band. She returned as an adult to teach, do research and lead study abroad programs such as the one she’s planned for SDSU students in summer 2018: “Inequality and Activism in Brazil.”

Transnational research

Larkins comes to SDSU from the University of Oklahoma (OU), where the robust study abroad program she created generated enthusiasm among OU faculty about teaching and doing research in Brazil. It’s a model Larkins hopes to recreate here with opportunities for all seven SDSU colleges.

“Our program will serve the entire university, involving faculty and students around issues of health, environmental science, biodiversity, social work, business and urban life, among others,” Larkins said. “Brazilian researchers are eager to work with collaborators in the United States.”

Larkins’ research and teaching focus on violence and inequality in Brazil’s urban centers. She lived in Rio de Janeiro’s largest favela (slum, in English) while researching narcotics trafficking for her Ph.D. at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. The dissertation formed the basis of her first book, “The Spectacular Favela: Violence in Modern Brazil,” published by University of California Press in 2015.

Course content

The J. Keith Behner and Catherine M. Stiefel Program on Brazil is SDSU’s first endowed academic program with an international focus. Since its creation in 2014, academic content about Brazil has been added to courses across the curriculum, said Madhavi McCall, associate dean for the College of Arts and Letters, who served as interim director.

The Brazil program created by Behner (’71) and Stiefel (’92) has an intercollegiate advisory board, which has approved student and faculty grant proposals to develop curriculum and research projects around Brazil, McCall said.

For example, students in the Fowler College of Business traveled to Sao Paulo earlier this year to conduct a collaborative project on water sanitation with students at Insper University. Marketing professor Gabe Gonzalez led the experiential learning opportunity.

In 2018, Larkins will lead a student program to Salvador da Bahia and Rio. The class will focus on social inequality and how local activists and nonprofit organizations in the areas of environmental sustainability, education, and housing and land rights are working to bring change to their communities.

Campus event

A third arm of the Brazil program supports community engagement and outreach, particularly to San Diego’s Brazilian community, with sponsorship of public events, lectures, art exhibits and film screenings.

On Oct. 25, Reinaldo Lourival, senior director for the Brazilian chapter of the nonprofit Nature and Culture International, will lecture on campus about the organization’s conservation model and how it protects biodiverse ecosystems.