The presentation of CampusRom, a network of Romani students created to promote and support the efforts of Roma to get a university education, was held on Tuesday 19 July.
Over the past five years the University Access Group, an initiative of the Comprehensive Plan for the Roma People in Catalonia, has encouraged many Roma to study and prepare for university entrance exams for people over the age of 25. During the years of its existence, the project has helped many Roma to get into university. These students are now studying for degrees in pedagogy, psychology, business administration, law and teaching.
However, fulfilling the dream of reaching university has not been at all easy for these students, as they have had to overcome a multitude of barriers. Amongst them is the fact that many aspiring university students are mothers and fathers, with all the obligations that entails. In addition, most of them had previously dropped out of school.
All these circumstances make the University Access Group much more than an academic preparation course. Students from the various years the course has been offered have always been very close to and supported each other. That includes both those who made it to university – who make themselves available to teach reinforcement courses – as well as teachers and those students who, in spite of not passing on the first try, continue studying and encouraging new Roma to take part in this initiative. This strong team spirit led some of them to organise a support platform for students. Its aim was to create a network that would make all of the group’s resources available to help students tackle problems they encounter on their journey to university admittance.
CampusRom, as the network is called, was presented to the public on Tuesday at a ceremony held at the offices of the Department of Labour, Social Affairs and Family. The presentation was co-chaired by: Francesc Iglèsies, Secretariat of Social and Family Affairs; Bernat Valls, Director General for Civic and Community Action; and Ramon Vílchez, head of the Romani People and Social Innovation Programme. Francesc Iglèsies used the occasion to encourage students to associate, engage and establish channels for dialogue with universities, noting that “creating a university network is a great idea, not just for the sake of visibility, not just to become examples for others to follow and not just to create mutual support structures, but also because it has the potential to change the university and make it an institution which is more open, diverse and receptive to your demands”.
Also on the presentation panel were members of the new network such as Jelen Amador, Fernando Macías and Manuel Fernández Echepares. Jelen, a teacher for the University Access Group, spoke of the high level of discrimination that Romani women experience for being women, for being Roma, and because of the limited educational opportunities available to them. He also added that “this network will be a place where we Romani men and women can dream of a better future, and where together we can share in this dream and devise strategies to make it happen, and thus better our own lives and a create a better future for coming generations”.
For his part, Manuel Fernández, a student member of the University Access Group, said that “CampusRom aims not only to offer support, accompaniment and help Romani students in Catalonia, but also to promote the social engagement and leadership of these students and help them achieve their dreams and become an example for all Roma and for society in general”. As the first network of Romani students in Catalonia, it is a very ambitious initiative which could become a mirror in which many Roma who had never dared dream of going to university will be able to see themselves. This, in turn, could generate new dynamics of social change both within and outside the Romani community.
Also present at the network’s presentation was Dr Arnetha Ball, professor at Stanford University and a worldwide leader in research for overcoming educational inequalities within minority cultural groups. Arnetha Ball was present at the group’s very first work meeting, following the official presentation. All network members shared their hopes for the future at this meeting, where Dr Ball encouraged them to strive forward by offering her own story of personal triumph as an example.
CampusRom is a network that aims to grow over time and is open to all Roma who wish to study or who are currently studying. To contact the group, you can email email@example.com. They can also be contacted through their website or Facebook page.