My name is Roger Maioli dos Santos. I go by Roger Maioli, as multiple surnames can be tricky to use in English. I was born and raised in Brazil and have been living in the US since 2008.
I came to academia out of an old love for English literature. Over time such love came to be complemented by a conviction that the humanities serve an important purpose in public life. I believe that we can be better to ourselves and to others (including non-human others) if we live in societies whose members understand their own history, know how to acquire and process information, read with curiosity and skepticism, practice constructive dialogue, show interest in and respect for differences, and are open to being challenged on their values. Some of us grow up in circles that instill these skills as an integral part of our upbringing. Others will have their first opportunity to develop them through a humanistic education. This I know from personal experience.
Academia is my third career, and a highly unlikely one given my background. My parents, a carpenter and housewife from the São Paulo countryside, attended only elementary school. Neither of them has ever read a book. I knew the professions they did, and while in middle school I started working full time as a refrigeration mechanic while continuing to go to school in the evenings. Those evening classes were a secondary part of my life. I didn’t learn much from them nor saw much value in them. People would often say that education could change your life, but I found no real-life evidence of that, whether among my colleagues at the factory or in the impoverished periphery of São Paulo. Those were the worlds I knew, and in those worlds the value of education was just a saying without substance.
My father, who hadn’t had the opportunity to pursue a formal education, knew its value better than I did. I discovered my love of literature by reading the encyclopedias he bought from street vendors to help me and my brothers with our schoolwork. During my time as a mechanic he encouraged me to start learning English on Saturdays, and after ten years in the refrigeration sector I reinvented myself as an English-Portuguese translator. I had quit school for good after graduating from high school, but my growing interest in English literature made me reconsider that decision. From 1998 to 2002 I attended college at night for a degree in Journalism. That’s when I learned what an academic career was, and a year after getting my degree I joined the University of São Paulo for an MA in English.
Entering academia, and subsequently joining the PhD program at Hopkins, were profoundly transformative experiences. I was transitioning between worlds. I had acquired, through self-study, a sufficient knowledge of English literature to get by in grad school. But when it came to everything else I was unusually ignorant. There is a lot that my peers knew that I didn’t about things like civic responsibility, community engagement, sustainable life choices, appreciation for popular culture, politics. In a way, my ignorance was a source of insight: it revealed to me how much one gets from simply growing up under different circumstances or attending better schools, especially schools with a liberal arts curriculum. The beneficial impact of the humanities was explicit to me in the distance between my peers and myself.
Since joining academia I have learned much that I wish I could share with my past self. The experience of being Latin American in the United States has in itself been a tremendous source of insight into why education matters. I have learned, as a foreigner subjected to shifts in immigration policy, how the beliefs of people around me shape the material conditions in which we all live. Education can change the world by changing that. The Portuguese sections of this website are designed to share some of that experience with a Brazilian audience. Conversely, my work in the classroom builds on my enduring love of literature and my evolving belief in the importance of the humanities as a vehicle for creating a better, more tolerant, and less unequal world. It is a privilege to be able to share this love, and this belief, with successive cohorts of students.