Source: Faculty of Education / Jason Arday

From Illiteracy to Academia: Jason Arday Breaks Barriers as Cambridge Youngest Black Professor

In a historic appointment, Cambridge University has made Jason Arday the youngest black professor in its history, marking a significant step towards greater diversity and inclusivity in higher education.

Jason Arday, a sociologist, has overcome significant challenges, including autism and global developmental delay, to become a leading academic in the field of sociology of education.

Childhood Struggles and Early Curiosity

Jason Arday was born and raised in Clapham, south-west London. Despite being diagnosed with autism and global developmental delay in his early years, he showed a strong desire to question the world around him. Even though he couldn’t speak until he was 11 years old, and could not read or write until he was 18, he was curious about the world’s problems, asking questions like, “Why are some people homeless?” and “Why is there war?”

Early Education and Development

Arday’s mother played a critical role in his development, introducing him to music to aid his conceptualisation of language. Her efforts paid off, as Arday began to read and write in his late teens with the help of his mentor, Sandro Sandri. Arday went on to obtain a degree in Physical Education and Education Studies from the University of Surrey and trained as a PE teacher.

Developing a Passion for Sociology

He became interested in pursuing postgraduate study at the age of 22 and spoke about it with his mentor, who encouraged him to pursue his dreams. Despite having little practical training or guidance, Arday was determined to become an academic. He worked as a PE lecturer in higher education during the day and spent his evenings and nights writing academic papers and studying sociology.

Source: Faculty of Education / Jason Arday

Achieving Academic Success

Arday’s perseverance paid off, as he acquired two master’s qualifications and a PhD in educational studies. Although he faced rejection during the peer review process, he used it as a learning experience and continued to pursue his goals. He had his first paper published in 2018 and secured a senior lectureship at Roehampton University. In 2021, he became a professor of sociology of education at the University of Glasgow’s School of Education, making him one of the youngest professors in the UK.

Breaking Barriers at Cambridge

Now, at the age of 37, Arday is set to become the youngest black person ever appointed to a professorship at the University of Cambridge. His appointment is a significant milestone, given that there are currently only five black professors at the university, and official figures show that only 155 of more than 23,000 university professors in the UK are black. Arday hopes to use his position to improve the representation of ethnic minorities in higher education.

Making a Difference Through Research

Arday’s work primarily focuses on how to democratise higher education and open doors for people from disadvantaged backgrounds. He is also collaborating with Dr Chantelle Lewis from the University of Oxford on research on neurodivergence and black students. Arday believes that Cambridge, with its amazing resources and people, can be a catalyst for change not just at the university but across the sector.

Power of Perseverance

Jason Arday’s story is a testament to the power of perseverance and determination. Despite facing significant challenges, he remained focused on his goal and pursued his dreams relentlessly. His appointment at Cambridge is a historic achievement and paves the way for more diversity and inclusivity in higher education. Arday’s work will undoubtedly make a significant impact on the academic world, and his message of solidarity, understanding, and love will inspire others to pursue their dreams regardless of their backgrounds.

Our primary sources for this article are the BBC and the official announcement of his appointment by Cambridge University.

Contributions to Charity

Aside from his academic achievements, Jason has also made significant contributions to charity. In 2010, he ran an incredible 30 marathons in just 35 days to raise funds for Shelter and the Shooting Star Children’s Hospice. This incredible feat was inspired by his visit to a homeless shelter when he was just 17 years old, where he saw people his own age struggling to find a roof over their head. Arday felt a strong urge to help those in need, and he chose to support Shelter’s work with homeless and badly housed families. His commitment to helping others, both in academia and in charity work, is truly inspiring and sets a powerful example for all of us.  Source: Wikipedia.

Our primary sources for this article are this BBC article and the official announcement of his appointment by Cambridge University.

For more inspirational stories about people breaking stereotypes when it comes to education, read all about the 96-year-old Italian who graduated from college in this BrightVibes article.

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