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USFers See Hungary From a Roma Perspective

12-19-2011
Hungary3Web

Hungarian Roma teens pose for a photo. Photo by Michael Lewenfus. 

When William Neverman ’11 landed in Budapest as part of an immersion trip to study cultural conflict and human rights violations involving the Roma, he never imagined that his photographs would cause gallery-goers to break down in tears.

But that was the situation Neverman found himself in as part of a pilot course called The Roma in Hungary: Understanding Ethnic Conflict, Advocating Human Rights. The course, led by the University of San Francisco’s Pedro Lange-Churion, associate professor of modern and classical languages, included Neverman and 10 others studying Hungarian and Roma art and history, and meeting with native Hungarian and Roma politicians, community leaders, artists, and university students. 

A major theme of the course was to use the camera’s lens, both figuratively and literally, to understand those photographed. Early on, USF students learned basic photography and began documenting their experiences with the Roma (also known as Gypsies) in candid photos. 

At the end of the month-long trip, the best student images were displayed as photo-essays at the Tűzraktér Gallery in central Budapest. Rather than depict the Roma through the lens of negative stereotypes that are so common in Hungary, the images captured by USF students revealed the Roma as everyday people in familiar situations, with dreams, ambitions, and problems relevant to anyone, said Lange-Churion.

“I recall our group mentor, Angela Kocze, a Roma woman who advocates for Roma rights, began to cry at the sight of the photographs,” said Neverman, a business student majoring in entrepreneurship. “At that point, I knew that our work was having an effect and accomplishing our goal to raise awareness about this complicated situation.”

The images affected Hungarians outside the Roma community as well, if in less obvious ways. 

During the trip, a Budapest radio station interviewed Lange-Churion and USF students about their experiences, encouraging them to explain the idea behind the class and their studies in Hungary. USFers also traveled to towns around the country with large Roma populations, even leading a marathon, six-hour reading of Romani poets in Szikszó — a town in northeast Hungary that has been prone to racial tension.

“The next day, the Szikszó mayor, who had heard of the event, invited the USF group to his office to officially welcome us and express his gratitude for what he called a healing event,” Lange-Churion said. 

Overall, the pilot immersion was a great success and helped expose USF students to the situation facing many Roma in Hungary and other parts of Europe, Lange-Churion said. “I think the students took a lot away from it,” he said. ”Enough that I’m already preparing for the trip next summer.”

Written by Edward Carpenter »email usfnews@usfca.edu | Twitter @usfcanews