Here at USP, education is and has always been a hot topic. How can it not be? The university is renowned for its engineering department and history of important research, and is on many lists internationally as the top university in Latin America. But for students and professors here, it is much more personal.

As I’ve mentioned before, it’s not uncommon for there to be a few student or staff led strikes throughout the semester. This is because here at USP, students really take their education into their own hands. This semester, an important issue I’ve seen advertised is sexism and colorism. Many students have held their own meetings to discuss issues of gender, class, and race, and how these issues affect their education.

When I ask these students why they choose to strike and meet on their own, often forcing administration to listen to them and hear their side of things, I always hear a similar answer: If we don’t speak for ourselves, who will?

Students at USP are the top students of their class. These are students who studied hard, paid to go to prep schools, and passed the notoriously difficult entrance exams to study here. Although USP is free, it’s not easy. And these students don’t take any of it for granted. In fact, their committed to making the experience a better, safer one.

Group chats are prevalent throughout Brazil and apparently, everywhere *except* the United States. These lifelines are where students chats about class, assignments, and pretty much anything else. I’ve become a member of at least 5 group chats since coming here, and I have friends who are in over 20 school related group chats. Each one is its own little support group, where classmates genuinely share ideas and answers, trading information and jokes together just because. There’s no agenda, no gossip. And that’s so far proven the rule, not the exception. Sharing work and working together on assignments isn’t weird here; it’s weirder if you do work on your own without consulting a friend! Sticking together and supporting each other is something I’ve come to really appreciate here, even in surprising places, like the public restrooms.

The graffiti in the restrooms is yet another place where you can see how important a fair and supportive educational environment is to my peers. In the Geography building , the women’s stalls are scrawled with messages like “Women for women”, “Transphobia will be destroyed”,  and “We support our poor girls, our black girls, our smart, beautiful, free girls”. In the Languages building where I study, the bathroom is more direct: “If you feel unsafe, call”, with a phone number. There are tons messages like this, messages telling young women where the safest spots on campus to study are, even an entire conversation written by the mirrors about Immanuel Kant’s theories on morality.

The strikes and the speeches, the graffiti and political meetings aren’t a show, like they are in many U.S universities. They aren’t for a few minutes of attention, they’re to spark change in the institution they work and study for. At least within the department of Languages and Social Sciences I’ve seen that people are genuinely interested in supporting each other and making a difference.

Today, while waiting for friends outside a classroom, a girl handed me a flyer for a political student group dedicated to raising awareness about colorism, and how it prevents young children from getting an equal education. The flyer read, “A luta não para”, a common phrase for many things here. It means, “the fight doesn’t stop”.

And it doesn’t. At least not here, in FFLCH, where everyone seems truly committed to a more connected, sincere educational experience.