Thursday, March 7, 2013


“Nothing About Us Without Us”

“Khanchi Pa Amende Bi-amengo”

Dear Ms Klein:

We are writing to you as supporters, members and members of the Board of Directors of Roma Community Centre, Toronto. As an active and highly-regarded organization at the forefront of the Romani human rights struggle in Canada, RCC is usually contacted or consulted when organizations and institutions plan to hold events about our people. We were therefore surprised to discover – not from conference planners, but from a third party – that a conference on Roma was being organized at the Munk School for Global Affairs. Even though RCC volunteer, Professor Cynthia Levine-Rasky contacted you, offering assistance and a list of prominent Romani academics/ activists as speakers, we had no response to our suggestions.

It is not unusual – but highly egregious – that Roma have been, and continue to be, interpreted and studied by outsiders without our active participation. Although the grad students at Munk School may have had the best of intentions, it is unfortunate that they did not understand the seriousness of excluding the very people about whom they were planning to present (and represent).

Any work with a vulnerable group or one positioned differently in relation to the academics must be done collaboratively: the grad students should have taken the initiative to approach Executive Director Gina Csanyi-Robah and RCC at the outset, inviting her to help shape the program in order to ensure the kind of inclusion that is consistent with social justice principles. The Tri-Council Policy Statement for Research Involving Human Subjects calls this process 'community engagement' when it comes to working with Aboriginal groups to whom one could argue that a refugee group may be compared. Even if this policy may not strictly apply to organization of conferences, the principle is nonetheless essential in dealing with those who have systemically been under-represented and marginalized. The grad students should have consulted with Ms Csanyi-Robah about the program, asking her how she wanted to be integrated into it rather than imposing that on her, at the end, in a limited role. Imposing her role on her is inconsistent with the principles of equity and power-sharing in the spirit of social justice work.

The exclusion of Roma participants seems to be linked to the decision “to keep to an academic focus” (from a letter by Ms Jenna Hay to Gina Csanyi-Robah). Roma and the groves of academe are not mutually exclusive. As you know, we have academics in many fields, some of whom have been excluded from the conference. In her letter to Ms Csanyi-Robah, Ms Hay continued: “the organizers are committed to the original vision …… that is primarily focused on the Roma in Europe” without learning that many of our academics share this focus, and from a Romani perspective. In fact, the Roma academic perspective is critical to the three areas outlined in your call for papers. (Romani scholar Dr. Ethel Brooks presented in January at the UN on the Roma Holocaust – culminating years of persistent effort by Roma to have a Romani speaker included for the first time.)

We fail to see how the inclusion of Roma would in any way interfere with students’ work in the conference’s organization and goals. Indeed, they could have gained valuable experience and insights from RCC. Clearly the organizers did not heed Cynthia Levine-Rasky’s point in her September 25th letter that “it would be unfortunate if there were to be yet another conference about a group of people (be they Indigenous, refugees, Roma, or other groups) who were excluded from the discussion.”

It is imperative that any conference in which a marginalized and persecuted ethnic group is discussed or studied must have fair consultation and representation (especially when a representative body already organized by this group actually and actively exists). Under whose guidance was it deemed fit to exclude us? For too long we have been studied, written about, filmed, and discussed; for too long we have been isolated from academic discourse, and your conference is continuing this practice. In your intention to study Roma as “Europe’s Outsiders: The Persecution, Isolation, and Integration of the Roma (1945–the Present)” you have unfortunately cast Roma in a similar position here in Canada: we have been relegated to the margins, excluded, isolated, and have been made the outsiders – once again – at this conference.


Roma Community Centre Board of Directors
Michael T. Butch President, Roma Community Centre

Ronald Lee
Vice President, Roma Community Centre
Former Instructor
The Romani Diaspora in Canada
NEW 343 H1S, 2003-2008
New College
University of Toronto

Jen Plyler Danch
Secretary, Roma Community Centre

Kole Kilibarda

Caitlin Hewitt-White

DAVID s Beleznay

Amarna Moscote

Michael Griesz

RCC Executive Director
Gina Csanyi-Robah

RCC Supporters and Members
Ian Hancock, Ph.D.
Professor of Linguistics
Department of Linguistics
College of Liberal Arts
University of Texas at Austin
Romani Archives and Documentation Centre

Debbie Folaron
Associate Professor
Translation Studies
Concordia University, Montreal, Canada

Arielle Dylan, PhD
Assistant Professor
School of Social Work
St. Thomas University
Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada
E3B 5G3

Cynthia Levine-Rasky, PhD
Associate Professor
Department of Sociology
Mackintosh-Corry Hall
Queen's University
Kingston, Ontario
Canada K7L 3N6

Ethel Brooks
Director of Undergraduate Studies
Department of Women's and Gender Studies
Associate Professor
Departments of Women's and Gender Studies and Sociology
Rutgers University
162 Ryders Lane
New Brunswick, NJ 08901

William L. Bila
Former Vice President, Roma Community Centre
Paris, France

Lynn Hutchinson Lee
Multidisciplinary artist, co-founder of chirikli collective
Chair, RCC Social Justice Committee
Toronto, Ontario
and many others.


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