No matter where you go in the world, dance is a shared language. It is not, however, a language that is widely taught at a high level in upper academia. For Brazil native, Rayane Prado Nunes (she/they), the fact that UW–Madison was one of the few institutions that allowed her to put an equal emphasis on both academics and a life-long passion was a huge draw. That passion would also lead the sophomore from Brazil to a four-year, full tuition scholarship through the First Wave Scholarship Program. Through the program, Prado Nunes is pursuing a psychology degree with certificates in dance and Latinx studies.
“The scholarship was a big factor, but also because here I’m able to pursue both arts and academics in equal depth. [At UW–Madison] we have a lot of arts programs and very cool resources that I love to use because I’ve been dancing my whole life,” said Prado Nunes. “I did not want to give that up just yet, so I wanted my undergrad experience to also have a component of art as well.”
According to the Office of Multicultural Arts Initiatives (OMAI), the First Wave Hip Hop & Urban Arts Learning Community is the first university program in the country centered on urban arts, spoken word, and hip-hop culture. Through the program, participating students hone their craft in the high-level community while also pursuing their academic goals by “studying fields that merge their artistic interests with professional development.” The students also take part in community engagement through creative service-learning projects that meld activism and the multicultural arts that the program works to foster.
“I was struggling as a first-year international student, and I was like, I have no idea what I’m doing,” said Prado Nunes. “There’s so much that I cannot do because I’m not a citizen. I want to change that. I want to do something about it.”
And so, she did. Prado Nunes started by visiting the International Student Services (ISS) website to see what resources were already available. There, she found the International Student Advisory Board (ISAB), a group of international students that work with ISS to relay needs and voice concerns of the international student population on campus. She also joined International REACH, a cross-cultural speakers program, as an ambassador.
“Though REACH is not dedicated to specifically help international students, being part of it helped me a lot in terms of getting more connected to the bigger Madison community and learning more about other cultures,” Prado Nunes said.
ISAB and REACH aren’t the only place Prado Nunes works to help fellow Badgers, though. She is also a peer advisor with Cross-College Advising Services (CCAS) and a mentor with The Studio learning community she joined as a freshman. Prado Nunes and her Studio colleagues now use their experiences to empower students, many of whom are from the BIPOC community, to develop their art and help them navigate UW–Madison, since—as Prado Nunes notes— “it is a PWI (predominantly white institution).”
Providing a voice isn’t new for Prado Nunes. When she was 11, she organized her classmates to stand against their school’s “anti-flip flop” rule. While the footwear-driven start of her social activism career might seem silly, it was a catalyst for the actions she takes today. It opened her eyes to larger issues such as classes and mixed titles, and—once she arrived in the United States—racism.
“In Brazil, being ‘Latinx’ isn’t a thing because everyone is Latinx. Here, it’s a big thing. It was the first time I truly experienced racism and xenophobia with my accent,” said Prado Nunes. “So, what I did in elementary school, I have to keep doing, because here in the U.S. it’s even worse.”
“It’s a lot bigger than I am,” she adds. “I know by myself I won’t be able to make big changes, but I try my best to collaborate with others. As a community, we can achieve something great.”
When she is not working with ISAB, as a peer mentor or organizing whole school strikes, Prado Nunes spends time in psychology labs as part of her training, studies, and research in preparation for graduate school. She is currently a research assistant in The Social Kids Lab, Infant Learning Lab, and Niedenthal Emotions Lab. In each of the labs, Prado Nunes is learning how the research process works and finding what aspects she likes most in preparation for earning a PhD and eventually becoming a professor with their own research lab. Though only a sophomore, Prado Nunes hopes she will be able to help other international students on campus whether it be in their field of study, or just feeling more at home on campus.
While every international student has a different campus experience, Prado Nunes hopes that sharing what she has experienced and the resources she has found (such as ISAB) can help other international students find ways to get involved and feel more at home in Madison.
“I was in their shoes at some point,” she says. “Truthfully, I still am to an extent. Being away from you home and culture doesn’t necessarily get easier, but we get a better handle on it.”
Story by: Jaya Larsen