Chrissie Browne is the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller Student Lead in the Widening Participation Department at King’s College London. Chrissie has played a key part in developing the ‘Rom Belong‘ programme which aims to increase the representation of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller students in higher education.
This time last year I had just had an interview for a seven-week summer internship with the Widening Participation (WP) Department at King’s College London. I had no idea what it would involve. Would I just be making tea and photocopying? As long as I was getting paid, I was happy.
When I started I learned that it was so much more than that. I learned about the hard work they and widening participation departments across the country were doing to combat inequalities, trying to make universities accessible for all. I noticed so many themes that directly related to Travellers. ‘GRT’ is an acronym used widely; an acronym that I had never heard before – even though I was a ‘T’ in GRT (it stands for Gypsy, Roma, Traveller). I soon realised that my first-hand experience and drive might help the WP department reach these communities.
I did a little bit of research whilst on my internship and the first person that met with me was Sarah Mann from Friends, Families and Travellers. I was blown away by the sheer amount of information she had and the time she gave me.
From there, I reached out to other organisations and activists and before I knew it, I felt that I was part of something bigger. There are so many amazing voices of advocacy that I had never heard before. As much as there were a lot of barriers, I felt like we had the power to overcome them.
When my internship came to an end and I started back at University the WP department asked me if I would like to carry on with the work that we had started. Of course, I jumped at the chance and have spent the last 7 months building relationships and reaching out to Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities to find out how we can best help.
Our work operates on two sides. One is to reach people from Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities, help with structural and non-structural barriers and the other side is educating the settled community, trying to break down stereotypes and change the conversation. Although this programme is in its early days, we are proud to announce our first two events (of many to come) that are specific to these goals:
- Wednesday 17 April 5:30pm, Guest Lecture by Professor Colin Clark: ‘It is still possible to be a Traveller and have an education. Revisiting the past, entering the academy, thinking about the future’. We are so excited to have Prof Clark joining us for this free public lecture. Its aim is to show practitioners, academics and community members alike that University is somewhere that Travellers belong. Book your place here.
- Saturday 1st June 11am: #RomBelong Taster and Information day. We are inviting young people thinking about their future and different careers to come along with their families to King’s College London and experience it first-hand. There will be interactive sessions and staff members on hand to ask any questions that come up. Find out more.
I’ve spent a lot of my life with people trying to downplay the Traveller side of my family. I’ve got use to people looking awkward when I mention I’m a Gypsy or giving me pitying looks when I talk about some of the sites I’ve lived on.
I want to show that there is no shame in being a Traveller. Our culture and heritage is valid and I want to make sure that future generations can grow up proud. I want to show future generations that they belong.
If you would like to get in touch with Chrissie about University or anything at all, send an email to [email protected] and put ‘Chrissie Browne’ in the subject line.