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The survivors: Roma University Students in Turkey

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2008
Diler, Melike
This study has two aims regarding the Roma university students in Turkey. First, it attempts to discover the characteristics of their life courses in order to identify the success factors paving the way for their participation in higher education, specifically when the low education level of the Roma people, including even their own families, is concerned. Therefore, their socio-economic environment, early childhood years and school experiences are focused and analyzed respectively to expose the actors and processes making their life stories appear as success stories. Second, it aims to expose whether there are differences between the ones involved in the Roma Rights Movement and the ones not involved in terms of their ethnic identity status. That is, most of the better-off Roma, previously, preferred hiding their ethnic identity not to be excluded from participation in social, economic and political spheres. However, the Roma university students participating in the Roma Rights Movement refuse to hide their identity as they do not want to be assimilated, but integrated into the majority society. That point has a first-rate importance, as the low educational level of the Roma people, especially that of the Roma children, are closely associated with the lack of positive role models showing them how and what education pays off. On the basis of the conclusions drawn from the data analysis collected through in-depth interviews, it is exposed that these Roma youngsters demonstrate high levels of agency for their own social inclusion through education. Although they are all supported by their families; most of their Roma school peers dropped out of either primary or high school due to poverty and discriminative attitudes of their teachers and school administrators. The stigma of inferiority attached to the Roma is so strong that the survivors, who manage to attend the high school, hide their ethnic identity from this point onwards. Therefore, the demand of the Roma university students, participating in Roma Rights Movement, for integration into the majority society appears as an exceptional case among the well-educated Roma, but making them the pioneers of a new Roma identity in Turkey: Roma intelligentsia.