Although many consider higher education to be a noble pursuit, for minority students like Elroy Johnson, it is a struggle – a struggle he shares with students thousands of miles away.
The Roma people, sometimes called Gypsies, are an ethnic group that faces extreme prejudice in Europe, despite their wide dispersal across the continent. Roma students are currently overcoming bias and educational redlining in Hungarian universities, and Dr. Jason Morris, assistant professor of higher education, examined the sources of their motivation and strength last spring.
According to Morris’ report, Roma immigrants throughout Europe have finally entered the “Decade of Roma Inclusion,” after centuries of oppression, poverty and discrimination.
Now that a few Roma students are beginning to enter universities, Morris traveled to Hungary to research how Roma students have been progressing and what experiences, behaviors and factors have contributed to their achievements.
With the aid of Hungarian educators, Morris put together a survey examining students’ backgrounds and experiences in the education system. About 15 Roma students participating in a support program called Romaversitas told their stories through essay answers, Morris said.
Their stories highlighted the stereotyping they often faced from the majority and the conflicting pressures they felt from their families.
“I had to convince my classmates that I am not like other gypsy kids,” one Roma student wrote. The Roma endure the stigma of dishonesty and stupidity, and many Roma children are assumed to be mentally disabled and placed in special education schools, Morris said.
Many are ashamed to identify themselves as Roma, Morris said, and some Roma wrote they did not receive support from their families in pursuing education.
But, despite these obstacles, Roma students from different backgrounds and philosophies are indeed working through college, Morris said.
Morris said its real purpose was to tell the stories of Roma university students and foster hope in Roma communities. He plans to continue studying this question in the future.
Johnson, junior marketing major from Frisco, has no experience with the particular Roma students involved in this study. But he and some students he knows have faced similar obstacles in pursuing higher education.
He is a scholar in the McNair Scholars Program, which prepares low-income minority and first-generation college students for doctoral education by helping them conduct primary research in their fields of interest, according to www.acu.edu/academics/trio/mcnair.
Johnson said he believes community support is a key factor in the broader question of academic success, but even more vital, he said, is an inward passion that recognizes the value of education when others do not.
“I know people who literally fight their family to go to college,” Johnson said. “It’s their passion to have better opportunities for their children or more rights for others.”
This passion was reflected in some of the responses of Roma students. One said he joined a Roma support program to be able to do something for the Roma.