Angela Kocze: Moving Roma into the Mainstream

November 25, 2019

There are few Roma people in academia, whether in Europe or the United States. One of the aims of Assistant Professor Angela Kocze is to change this through CEU’s Roma Graduate Preparation Program (RGPP), an initiative that supports young Roma graduates to succeed in the academic world. Kóczé is keenly aware of what is required: herself a Hungarian Roma, she was the first to go to high school in her extended family. 

Alongside being academic director of RGPP, Angela Kóczé is also acting chair of CEU’s Romani Studies Program (RSP), an interdisciplinary academic program that offers Roma related courses to MA and PhD students. “We’ve just embarked on the procedure to apply for accreditation for the advanced certificate program in Romani Studies. This is envisaged as offering a range of courses whilst also providing core knowledge, expertise, critical competences and skills related to Roma equality, social inclusion and diversity management,” she explains. CEU’s Romani Studies program, unlike others in Europe, does not concentrate on Romani language and culture but rather on how Roma people have been discriminated, and excluded in various domains of social life. As she notes, it’s a “very CEU programme: grounded in critical theories such as critical race theory, postcolonial studies and feminist theories, critical policy studies, with a main focus to analyze the long-standing continuity of racialization/’inferiorization’ of Roma people at various levels and places of society – including academia.” 

There are extremely few Romani scholars in the academy as well. “Probably I can count them on my two hands” says Kocze. “Some of us are from uneducated, working class families, which makes even more difficult to compete in an unequal and racially biased educational system. We have to create ourselves from scratch in an academic context where we not supposed to exist - as a scholar anyhow, rather than as an object of scientific curiosity. Unlike non Roma colleagues, we did not receive mentorship from established intellectuals, nor did we have a scholarly network to help us navigate academia” Kocze explains.  

The Roma Graduate Preparation Program, begun at CEU 15 years ago, wants to rectify and change the epistemic and structural violence against Roma. RGPP provides a one-year intensive course for young Roma graduates who want to improve their academic English and research skills before embarking on an MA or a PhD at various international universities.Since its inception, RGPP has graduated more than 200 students, the majority of whom have gone onto graduate studies with competitive scholarships and meaningful careers.

“This is a pioneering and historic program in Europe. A Roma person who is working today at a high-level position in any European institutions most probably came through the RGPP program” Angela explains.

She herself went through a process that she calls “hard to imagine.” Born in a small village to illiterate parents, Angela was the first in her extended family to attend high school. But she had no plans to stop there: first she graduated from a teacher training college in Budapest, then earned an MA in sociology, then another MA, this time at CEU, in human rights.

Following some years establishing various Roma organizations and working in governmental and non-governmental organizations, in 2011 Angela earned a PhD at CEU in sociology and social anthropology. In 2013 she went to the U.S. as a Fulbright Scholar. After one semester Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem (NC) invited her to join as visiting assistant professor at the Department of Sociology and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program. She spent five years there and is still affiliated with WFU.

“When CEU launched the Romani Studies Program in 2016, I thought that it was time to come home. My U.S. career was really taking off, but what we are doing here in Budapest is a centerpiece of my personal commitment: it’s transformative, emancipatory, and politically relevant. We provide a unique opportunity to create a group of young Roma academics who will gradually change the discourse about the Roma and who will transform institutions by making them more inclusive and diverse. Having Roma at the university as students and faculty, moreover serving in the governing and decision-making bodies of the institution allows diversity to become not just a “symbolic act”, but rather a central business.” she says.  

During her career Angela often felt the pressure of being the “first” in several settings. “Being a Romani woman, I was trained to do ten or twenty times more than my peers. I constantly felt the pressure of having to prove myself to overcome on the intertwined gender and racial stigma of incompetence and tokenization.” she states. 

Alongside her complex time-consuming, administrative and extensive mentoring and service tasks for RGPP and the Romani Studies Program Professor Kocze also spends a significant time researching the intersections between gender, race/ethnicity and class as well as the social and legal inequalities faced by the Roma in various European counties. 

Recent publications include a groundbreaking volume she co-edited with Viola Zentai, director of the Center for Policy Studies at CEU, Jelena Jovanovic, RGPP alumna, policy and research coordinator of the European Roma Grassroots Organizations Network, and Eniko Vincze, professor at Babes-Bolyai University. Titled The Romani Women’s Movement: Struggles and Debates in Central and Eastern Europe was published in 2018 by Routledge. The book collects essays by Romani and non-Romani women about their own experiences in Romani movements and Eastern European feminist movements. She notes of the publication,  “it is trailblazing in that it brings together both scholars and activists to show and reflect on how Romani feminism is being contested and practiced.” 

Forthcoming is another co-edited publication, with Huub van Baar, Justus Liebing University Giessen, Germany to be published in March 2020 by Berghahn-Oxford. “This volume takes stock of the contemporary situation and identity struggle of Europe’s Roma. Twenty-five years after the collapse of state socialism, a decade after the EU’s eastward enlargement, and the end of the so-called “Decade of Roma Inclusion”, the socioeconomic and political situation of Europe’s largest racialized minority remains desperate in many respects. We examine these paradox development and contradictions in the book.” She will also publish an updated version of her PhD dissertation (currently under review by an academic publisher) about Romani women’s political struggles in Post-socialist Europe.

A research project with colleagues, Mathias Moschel from CEU’s Department of Law, Cengiz Barskanmaz, Max Plank Institute, Germany and Eddie Bruce-Jones from Birkbeck, University of London, UK is the basis of another book, to be published by Hart Publishing which publish the highest quality of legal scholarship. Titled Race and Law in Europe – Texts, Cases and Materials, the book is due in 2021. “This will probably be the only textbook which aims to critically engage the case law on race in various European countries in a very thought-provoking way, while providing a theoretical and doctrinal framework for students, legal scholars, practitioners and courts.”

For Kocze, such collaborations prove of great interest. “I’m not the sort of scholar who needs monograph after monograph. Working with other scholars to create new research that helps move Romani studies forward is of vital importance.”