Angéla Kóczé is currently assistant professor of the Romani Studies Programme and Academic Director of the Roma Graduate Preparation Programme at Central European University in Budapest. She enters this key position at a time, the fall of 2017, when CEU is under fire from the Hungarian government and #I Stand With CEU is a watch word for those supporting academic freedom and human rights throughout Central and Eastern Europe.
Angéla’s path to academia was not assured. She was born into a Romungro family in the small town of Kispalád in northeastern Hungary. During the communist era, her father worked in construction and her mother was a housewife. Her two older sisters completed the eighth grade but did not continue to high school. Angéla was always an exceptional student. ‘When I was accepted at Déak Ferenc high school, one of the top schools in northeastern Hungary, my teachers were so impressed. I believe I was the only Roma student there at that time.’ Angéla lost her mother in her senior year of high school. She moved to Budapest and took a clerical office job in a manufacturing company. She worked part time in an after school programme as a teacher’s assistant at the elementary level. ‘My growing awareness of the challenges facing Roma children led me to university. None of my high teachers had mentioned the possibility of university despite my high grades. It was my own inner drive, which led me to pursue a BA in education and BA/MA in sociology at Eötvös Lorant University (ELTE).’
‘While at university I began working with the Roma Civil Rights Foundation. In 1996, I set up the Romaversitas programme in Hungary through an OSI Fellowship and promoted the Romaversitas conceptual model to Romania, Macedonia and Bulgaria.’ Romaversitas is currently active in eleven central and eastern European countries with a goal of helping ‘Roma university students accomplish their studies, find proper employment, and build community among them.’
In 1998, Angéla began her post-graduate studies at Central European University seeking an MA in Human Rights. She spent one semester abroad as a visiting fellow at Columbia University in New York.
On attaining her masters’ degree, Angéla became Education Director for Human Rights at the European Roma Rights Centre in Budapest. Her portfolio was to organize human rights workshops in several countries and to fund scholarships, training sessions and summer school courses for Roma law and public administration students. Concomitantly, Angéla sat on the board of the Romaversitas Invisible College.
In 2003, during the lead up to Hungary’s accession to the European Union in 2004, Angéla moved to Brussels to advocate for the rights of the Roma in the newly expanded EU. She was the founding director of the European Roma Information Office. ‘It was a very hard move because my son was only two years old at the time.’
Angéla returned to Budapest in October 2004 to start her PhD at Central European University in Sociology and social anthropology.
She then was offered and accepted a position as Expert Policy Advisor with the Hungarian Ministry of Social Affairs.
‘I was disheartened by my experiences as a woman, as a Roma, as a child of a working class family and disturbed by the lack of progress in central and eastern Europe to find resolution of class, gender and ethnic disadvantages. I determined at age 35 to return to CEU for my PhD. It took me five years. My father died in 2011 while I was defending my dissertation. I’m not sure he ever completely understood my motivation for obtaining the best education possible.’
Angéla followed the Decade of Roma Inclusion 2005-2015, from an ‘analytical distance.’ She was involved with demands of doctoral seminars and family responsibilities, but also consciously used the techniques of psychodrama in order to consider ongoing arguments, proposed solutions and her role in these from various perspectives.
An opportunity presented itself in 2013 for Angéla to travel to United States as a Fulbright Scholar. After her fellowship, she accepted the position of Visiting Assistant Professor in Womens’, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at the prestigious Wake Forest University in North Carolina. In 2013, the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, in Washington D.C., honored Angéla with the Ion Ratiu Democracy Award for her interdisciplinary research approach, which combines community engagement and policy making with in-depth participatory research on the situation of the Roma.
‘Budapest is where I belong at this moment’ Angéla responded when asked about her recent move back to Hungary. My goal is to become a tenured professor and build up a groundbreaking Romani Studies Program at CEU. I have three books in the works and a couple of articles. The first, for which I already have a contract, is based on my Ph.D. dissertation topic – a study of gender, race and class focusing on Romani concerns in Europe. CEU Press will publish that text. I am also co-editing a book with Huub van Baar, The Roma and their Struggle for Identity in Contemporary Europe, discussing issues of widespread contemporary relevance, which Berghahn-Oxford Books has recently signed a contract to publish.