CEU, Partners Launch Roma in European Societies Initiative

Earlier this year, CEU announced the Roma in European Societies (RES) initiative that will support existing CEU work and encourage new efforts on Roma issues across disciplines at the University. On June 22, partners THE VELUX FOUNDATIONS, the Open Society Foundation Roma Initiatives Office (RIO) and the Roma Education Fund (REF), joined CEU in launching the effort with a panel discussion focusing on the importance of Roma scholars.

RES will entail teaching and research activities, leadership development, outreach and institutional development. The initiative will enable more than 80 students to obtain Master's or doctoral degrees, with more than ten universities taking part in the network and 50 CEU faculty contributing regularly. RES will provide more than 40 internships for talented Roma students within governments, businesses and civil society with more than 140 leaders in those fields participating as mentors and supervisors.

Although CEU started the Roma Access Programs (RAP) over a decade ago, opportunities for Roma in academia remain rare. CEU President and Rector John Shattuck hopes the RES initiative will “take the extremely important topic from narrow confines to the University and beyond.”

CEU President and Rector John Shattuck speaks with Open Society Foundations Roma Initiatives Office Director Zeljko Jovanovic. Image credit: CEU/Daniel Vegel

CEU Provost and Pro-Rector Liviu Matei echoed Shattuck's sentiments, naming RES one of the most important initiatives realized under Shattuck's leadership. “This is a very important initiative for us in our institutional order. We hope it will have an impact on the lives of many Roma individuals. It helps us to pursue our own mission, to assert publicly what we want.”

Two RAP alumna shared their experiences in the program and how they have developed since. Sebijan Fejzula, who works as the coordinator for the Roma Graduate Preparation Program (RGPP) within RAP, talked about how she felt before coming to CEU.

“Four years ago I left my community with a strong fear of forgetting who I was and where I came from,” she said. “RAP not only helped me to know myself but it helps us form a collective identity.”

RAP alumna Jelena Jovanovic works as a fellow at CEU's Center for Policy Studies (CPS). After perfecting her English through RAP, she went on to earn a Master's degree in gender studies at CEU. Jovanovic talked about how her father had been discriminated against in their home country of Serbia. “Coming to RAP, I learned that there is nothing wrong with me being Roma,” she said. “I learned how to redirect stress over this to motivation for making change in society.”

CEU Center for Policy Studies Fellow and RAP alumna Jelena Jovanovic speaks at the Roma in European Societies (RES) kickoff at CEU. Image credit: CEU/Daniel Vegel

Hearing RAP alumni speak of their experiences was heartening for Zeljko Jovanovic, director of RIO. “What we see when we look at RAP alumni is hope for Roma people.” He underscored that it is a matter of leadership – through programs like RES – to “turn vulnerability into a strength.”

Jens-Joergen Pedersen, head of programme at THE VELUX FOUNDATIONS, noted that his organization is interested in helping societies develop. “The integration part is what we are interested in, especially people from disadvantage environments. That is the European spirit.”

THE VELUX FOUNDATIONS Head of Programme Jens-Joergen Pedersen speaks at the launch of the Roma in European Societies (RES) initiative. Image credit: CEU/Daniel Vegel

Andrzej Mirga, chair of REF called the launch “a monumental occasion for Roma,” and named RES and the forthcoming European Roma Institute for Arts and Culture (ERIAC) as huge milestones in Roma empowerment.

“In the past, others supported our costs in order to help us to develop. Now we are supporting this development as individuals and as a community,” he said. “That we shoulder some of the costs is something new. For this idea to spread, we need more Roma intellectuals and academics to join this process. This is a natural course of development similar to other minorities who have sought to challenge mainstream society for the full recognition of the social, economic and human rights.”