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Marginalisation and Mixed Feelings: Some Research 'Findings' on GRT

We (Tamsin and Emily) have just written a journal article together that analyses and reflects on our research and outreach practice on Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities and higher education. The aim for this article was to pull together data strands from our different projects between 2018-2020 to explore what is happening in the sector to widen access for GRT communities, what some of the issues are in constructing outreach for marginalised groups and reflect on what might constitute good practice. The article will likely change shape as it moves through the process of peer review but, for now, some of our key ‘findings’ we’d like to share with you are:

  • That Gypsy, Roma and Travellers (GRT) are a highly marginalised UK higher education (HE) minority with patchy targeted policy interventions for their access, support and success in HE. While a national agenda to support the inclusion of GRT remains significant, we also see clear value in collaborating across institutions and with schools, colleges and third-sector organisations to learn from and with each other to enhance understanding in collaboration and comparison rather than in competition.

  • That outreach practices can reduce GRT people (who constitute a broad and diverse community) to a blunt ethnic category in the drive to make this group ‘knowable’ enough to design ‘workable’ outreach interventions. As educational practitioners, we must seek to ‘push back’ against quick fix’ approaches towards more careful, nuanced and ethical outreach practice.

  • That the decision to consider HE is not a straightforward one for many GRT young people and is infused with ‘mixed feelings’ such as whether HE is an imagined future that aligns with their communities and histories, alongside negotiating whether to maintain ethnic invisibility - infused by negative implications around ‘coming out’. We think that more inclusive outreach for GRT people would seek to understand and value the complex constellations of journeys towards and into HE and move away from individualised notions of aspiration.

  • We also think there may also be a sense of ‘cruel optimism’ (Berlant, 2011) inherent in organisations promoting HE to GRT when HE is not necessarily an inclusive space for marginalised groups. Outreach must also look ‘inwards’ to existing university practices and seek ways to value GRT voices, histories and experiences within practices, cultures and curricula in order that GRT outreach does not act as a cruel promise but a site of renewal and possibility.

Importantly, and echoing our learning journeys in our own work around GRT outreach, we identify the need for continued unlearning and an ongoing sense of the complexity this important work. This is about an orientation away from ‘this is how it should be done’ and towards ‘how might it be continually developed’. In writing the article, we have become more aware of what we don’t know about GRT inclusion and the need to sit with this uncertainty intellectually and ethically in order to design outreach that does not seek to ‘fix’ students who are marginalised through and by education – but learn with and from them in an ongoing way.

We will update you via this blog when the article is published. If you have any questions or thoughts, please do get in touch.

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