The Roma Program

Image with text that reads "The Roma Program"

Since 2012, Harvard FXB has implemented an innovative research and capacity-strengthening Roma program which:

  • Promotes the rights and participation of Romani children and adolescents
  • Encourages reflection on past and present state-sponsored violence against Roma
  • Advocates for Roma rights on academic and policy agendas

Our Goals

The Roma program aims to shift Romani studies away from the margins of academic interest and toward a central place in social and political theory and in multidisciplinary and multiregional studies. We seek to put Roma rights on academic and policy agendas in the United States and elsewhere by amplifying the voices of leading and emerging Romani scholars and leaders through research, events, and publications.

Our Approach

Image of Roma children in a classroomA cornerstone of our program is the use of participatory action research and case study methodologies to give voice to the issues identified as problematic by Roma themselves, to strengthen the capacity of Roma communities, and to support leadership among Roma youth.

In our work with the Roma, we actively create connections to other communities of scholarship, whether it be those focused on dialogue about reparations for collective injustice; those implementing particular methodologies such as participatory action research; those exploring themes such as hate speech; those delving into deeply important fields such as minority studies; those bringing wider perspectives such as intersectionality; or those devoted to artistic expression in celebration and sorrow.

We also work closely with young people and scholars—both Roma and non-Roma—to strengthen their capacity for conducting research ethically and professionally, with cultural sensitivity and community participation.

Ongoing Projects

Protective Self- Effacement? The Impact of Stigmatization on Canada’s Roma Minority

The FXB Center, in partnership with the Canadian Romani Alliance, launched a qualitative study involving middle-class and working-class Romani and non-Romani people in the Greater Toronto-Hamilton Area, Canada, a region known as the area with the largest and most diverse Romani population in Canada. This study will attempt to explore the realities and the struggles of Canadian Romani people who experience stigma and every day discrimination, the types of stigma and discriminatory incidents they face, and the downstream consequences of stigma.

Instead of focusing solely on anti-Roma discrimination or poverty, as has been the case for much of the European research to date, this project proposes to incorporate other contemporary conceptualizations of exclusion, in particular, the concepts of stigma and every day discrimination. This approach has the potential to unlock new understandings of the manifestations of racial injustice, and related remedies.

MEMOROBIA: Memorialisation of Roma enslavement in territories of contemporary Romania

The research project MEMOROBIA will generate knowledge on the historical roots and genealogy of anti-Roma racism, and the role the majority society has played in oppressing Roma.

To understand some of the consequences of Roma enslavement, this project will examine wealth gap, patterns of hiding Roma identity, Roma self-esteem, and anti-Roma attitudes and prejudice entrenched in the 500 years of enslavement. By analysing carefully collected empirical materials and using theories from slavery related contexts, the project will shed light on the relationship between the historical Roma enslavement, on one hand, and present-day anti-Roma racism, racialised poverty, social exclusion and Roma migrations, on the other.

By crossing the borders of traditional disciplines, the MEMOROBIA project will apply theories and methods from a range of disciplines, such as education, history, economics, social anthropology, political science and psychology. The goal is a more holistic understanding of slavery and its memorialisation than would be possible through the analysis of data within the framework of a single discipline.

It is time to address anti-Roma discrimination in the US

Read FXB Roma Program Director Dr. Margareta (Magda) Matache’s op-ed on Al Jazeera following the passing of the first-ever U.S. Senate resolution celebrating the heritage of Romani-Americans in December 2022. S. Res 124 is a critical milestone in recognizing and honoring the historical symbols, contributions, and experiences of the Romani people in the United States and beyond. The FXB Center joins Romani Americans and many others in welcoming this resolution.

An Interview With CFD Advisory Board Member Margareta Matache

Learn more about both past and ongoing work by reading Dr. Margareta (Magda) Matache’s conversation with research fellows from the Boston University Center on Forced Displacement, published in November 2022.

The O’Neill-Lancet Commission on Racism, Structural Discrimination and Global Health

FXB Roma Program Director and Lecturer on Social and Behavioral Sciences at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Dr. Margareta (Magda) Matache, has been appointed a commissioner on the newly-launched O’Neill-Lancet Commission on Racism, Structural Discrimination and Global Health. Through leveraging partnerships, engaging communities, and conducting empirical research to understand racism and structural discrimination in global health, the Commission seeks to advance equity and improve health outcomes around the world.

Within its three-year lifespan, the Commission has set out four charges: (i) diagnose the problem of racism in health; (ii) identify best practices and actionable anti-racist strategies; (iii) compile a report of its findings; and (iv) disseminate its findings to the public. The Commission was announced during an event on advancing health equity in October 2022:

Advancing Health Equity: Time To Address Racism And Structural Discrimination in Global Health

Other Recent Work

Time for Reparations: A Global Perspective

In collaboration with Jacqueline Bhabha, FXB Director of Research and Professor of the Practice of Health and Human Rights, and Caroline M. Elkins, Professor of History and of African and African American Studies, Dr. Margareta (Magda) Matache worked on providing an interdisciplinary perspective on this topic, originally inspired by the excellent presentations and discussion at “Responses to State Sponsored Collective Violence,” the fourth annual Roma conference at Harvard, organized by the FXB Center.

In this sweeping international perspective on reparations, Time for Reparations makes the case that past state injustice—be it slavery or colonization, forced sterilization or widespread atrocities—has enduring consequences that generate ongoing harm, which needs to be addressed as a matter of justice and equity. The University of Pennsylvania Press published the volume in 2021.

Read praise for this work below:

“The past lives in the present of all of us who are the survivors and descendants of extreme forms of inhumanity, and how we deal with it varies in profound ways, from those who would rather forget to those who demand both moral and material remediation as well as full acknowledgement and restorative apology for past injustices. This volume thoroughly and expertly explores all aspects of this tragic problem, from the slow and swift genocides of slavery and Nazi extermination to the sustained, multifaceted crimes of colonialism, as well as the legal, political and other lessons learned in the struggle for remedial justice. The richly informed and powerfully argued chapters fully persuade the reader of the urgency of a movement that has lately gained renewed vigor as well as moral, legal and intellectual clarity and direction. Above all, the work makes clear that the reparation movement’s goals are not only those of acknowledging and rectifying past wrongs and of preventing future ones but, as the police killings of black Americans make clear, of alleviating the inherited evils of the past still active in our times.”Orlando Patterson, author of Slavery and Social Death: A Comparative Study

“Injustices carry consequences, and unaddressed injustices impose consequences that grow and compound, burdening individuals and societies for generations. Time for Reparations brings history, rigor, and imagination to prospects for reparative approaches to searing human rights wounds. This is the time, and here are viral roadmaps for constructive repair.”Martha Minow, author of When Should Law Forgive?

Romani Realities in the US: Breaking the Silence. Challenging the Stereotype.

Thanks to a grant from the Cummings Foundation, the François-Xavier Bagnoud Center for Health and Human Rights at Harvard University (FXB Center) and Voice of Roma launched a research project in the summer of 2018 focused on the situation of Roma in the United States. Since 2012, the FXB Center has implemented an innovative research and capacity-strengthening program related to the Roma, who have long been an ill-treated minority, facing persecution and, in the past, even slavery. Up until now, the Center’s Roma Program has worked with Roma living in Europe where they form the largest ethnic minority group. In November 2020, the FXB Center and Voice of Roma released the study’s findings. Read the report, infographic, and press release.

Seventh Annual International Roma Day Events

Learn more about the FXB Center’s International Roma Day events and view event photos here.

One in One Hundred: Drivers of Success and Resilience among College-Educated Romani Adolescents in Serbia

Image of report coverThis report is the culmination of a multi-year research collaboration between the François-Xavier Bagnoud Center for Health and Human Rights at Harvard University (FXB Center) and the Center for Interactive Pedagogy in Belgrade (CIP Center). The report title refers to the 1 percent of Roma who beat the odds and reach university.  The project compared the educational trajectories of 89 Romani adolescents who succeeded in attending college in Serbia and 100 Romani youths from similar neighborhoods who did not. Almost all of the respondents (93 percent) in the sample (both college students and the comparison group) reported that their parents valued education for their children, in contrast to the dominant narrative that Roma are indifferent or hostile to education. In the study, Roma students also revealed they had faced a severe degree of discrimination. What emerges is a challenge to the easy story that Roma lack of educational achievement results from  Roma cultural attitudes rather than persistent racism and poverty. Read a blog about the report here or go to the full report.

Image of Harvard Educational Review coverIn its Summer 2017 issue, the Harvard Educational Review  (HER) published our paper on the Reclaiming Adolescence research project with our partner in Serbia, the Center for Interactive Pedagogy. Jacqueline Bhabha, Arlan Fuller, Margarete Matache, Jelena Vranjesevic, Miriam Chernoff, Boris Spasic, and Jelena Ivanis coauthored “Reclaiming Adolescence: A Roma Youth Perspective.” An op-ed on Voices in Education, the HER blog, accompanied the piece. Go to the blogpost,  “Writing Romani Youth Lives.”

Magda Matache continues her examination of the racialization and othering of Romani people against a white norm in standard Gypsy and Romani studies, with her blog piece, “Dear Gadje (non-Romani scholars).”

Culture Beyond Borders: The Roma Contribution kicked off on April 9 2017 with a very moving one-woman play written by and starring Alina Șerban.  The conference the next day had lively panels and discussion Image of event flyer(see the Roma-Conference-2017-AGENDA here; go to our blogpost about the event, Reclaiming Roma Identity; or search back on our Facebook page for some realtime excerpts). The crowd was still buzzing when we had to end the conference a half-hour late. Thanks to our cosponsors, the Berklee College of Music and the following departments and centers at Harvard University: the Center for European Studies; the Committee on Ethnicity, Migration, Rights; the Mahindra Humanities Center, the Department of Music; the Provost’s Fund for Interfaculty Collaboration; and the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs. Thanks to all who spoke, listened, and helped.

Read a Weatherhead Center April 2017 blog post about the Roma Program, “A Life in the Margins: Understanding the Roma Experience.”

Image of Realizing Roma Rights book cover

Read about our new book, Realizing Roma Rights and a new blog originally written for University of Pennsylvania Press to mark the book’s publication, “Does Power Listen to Truth in the case of the Romani People?”

The December 2017 issue of Harvard’s Health and Human Rights Journal featured a special issue on Roma, “Romani People and the Right to Health.” Read our editorial in the issue,

Image of Grattan PuxonRead a guest blog, “An Account of the First World Roma Congress Held in London in 1971,” from writer and activist Grattan Puxon.

 

More about Harvard FXB’s Roma Program: