Welcoming Culture in Universities- Awareness of Gypsy Roma Traveller’s culture

The Centre for Dance Research was awarded two QR Strategic Priorities funds which were aimed to ensure policy makers engage with research at the university. Researcher-artist Rosamaria Cisneros led on one of the projects which aimed to shine a light on marginalised communities and attempted to bring those voices to the forefront and into the university.

  “Welcoming Culture in Universities- Awareness of Gypsy Roma Traveller’s culture” is new research activity working to bring together Gypsy Roma Traveller (GRT) and non-GRT academics and artists in partnership with policymakers, particularly to better understand local, regional or national challenges. The project linked policy concerns regarding GRT students in Higher Education and enabled the research team to further existing research that is examining GRT in HE activities – e.g. scaling up the preliminary report, working on developing a network and hosting a symposium and an exhibition on the Coventry University campus. 

The findings directly feed into a follow up to the GRT in HE report that was drafted with Baroness Whitaker from Westminster in November 2019 and led by Professor Margaret Greenfields from Buckinghamshire New University (BUCKS) who is a professor of Social Policy & Community Engagement and director of the Institute for Diversity Research, Inclusivity, Communities and Society (IDRICS). Margaret Greenfields, Sherrie Smith (also from BUCKS) and Rosa Cisneros co-convened the day and ensured that a variety of artists, researchers, charities, GRT youth, policy-makers and local citizens attended the day. The writing below is from a young Romany Gypsy girl who attended the events and reflected on the research taking place.

Accessing Higher Education: A response from the perspective of a young Romany Gypsy- By Ruby Smith

In the idyllic setting of Coventry University, people came together to speak about GRT members coming into higher education, something which doesn’t happen enough, and which these inspirational people are working to change.

So many different faces were there, each representing a different piece of the puzzle; including Professor Margaret Greenfields of Bucks New University, artist Daniel Baker, and Isaac Blake – Isaac and Daniel work closely together for Isaac’s charity ‘Romani Cultural Arts Company’.

Disappointingly, some people were not able to be there on the day, but that did not mean that I learnt any less. Through presentations with several different speakers, I learnt partly about the struggles of GRT members of going into higher education, and also partly about what members outside of the community are trying to do to help us into it.

Higher education, for me, was something that was never out of my reach. My family never told me I couldn’t go; actually, it was expected of me. There were never barriers put in front of me, and I think that that is what needs to happen for everybody, GRT or not. And it was interesting to see how many people in the room that day had the same opinion as me, or similar, or even completely different.

I was particularly inspired by Isaac Blake’s talk, explaining how his charity is working with various others around the world, and also with the Welsh Assembly. Whilst his wasn’t specifically about higher education, it was clear that he and the Romani Cultural Arts Company were doing so much for the members of the community. It was so positive to see.

All of the speakers were inspiring, though. Without a doubt, I can assure you of that. It was so inspiring to be a young person, sitting there, listening to all of these people who care about education as much as I do, and want to make a change for me, and for others of my community. Everybody does so much, and such different things, and its events like this one that bring everything together and make things seem clear. The future is now for us, and higher education is only now becoming possible.

These people; Margaret Greenfields, Rosa Cisneros, Terezia Rostas, Sherrie Smith, and so many others, are the reason why we have a tomorrow.

Ruby-Leigh Smith is a Romany Gypsy who attends school full time. She is currently studying for her A-levels in economics, politics and history. She has a real love of reading and writing, and hopes to study journalism at university, starting September 2021. She regularly updates her blog with interviews and features about music, and wants to become a music journalist after university. Moreover, she also writes for The Travellers Times magazine, and contributes regularly. When a classmate called her a p***y, that was when she knew that things had to change – for her and for the community. Racism isn’t okay in any form, and should never be tolerated, she says, and she wants to make things better for all.

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