Jason Arday is the youngest Black professor at England’s Cambridge University.
You may be surprised about Arday’s journey to earn the gleaming title. As a result of his autism, he could not speak until he was 11 and was unable to read or write until he was in his teens. Therapists and career advisors told him he would spend his life in assisted living.
But Arday was determined to have his story play out differently. Working through a learning disability while growing up in an underserved community, he continued to dream big.
“One day I will work at Oxford or Cambridge,” he told himself at the age of 27, according to WalesOnline.
Before his current post, Arday had once worked as a physical education teacher while obtaining a degree at the University of Surrey in Guildford, England. It was initially difficult to find his footing in academia, and he remembered his papers being “violently rejected.”
“When I started writing academic papers, I had no idea what I was doing,” Arday explained to to WalesOnline. “I did not have a mentor, and no one ever showed me how to write. Everything I submitted got violently rejected. The peer review process was so cruel, it was almost funny, but I treated it as a learning experience and, perversely, began to enjoy it.”
Fortunately, he stayed the course and obtained two master’s degrees, and then he added a Ph.D. in education from Liverpool John Moores University to his resume.
From there Arday co-edited a report about racial and ethnic inequalities in British Universities in 2015. Three years later, he published his first paper and worked as a senior lecturer at Roehampton University. Afterward, he went on to work as an associate professor of sociology at Durham University and then secured a professorship at the University of Glasgow’s School of Education.
The root of Arday’s passion for education has centered on how the education system impacts Black students as well as racial discrimination in education. He remembered learning of the realities for Black students during his childhood years living in an underserved community.
His current chapter will place him at one of the top universities across the globe. In total, there are only 155 Black professors in the U.K. out of 23,000. He also has joined just five other Black professors to teach at Cambridge University.
“A lot of academics say they stumbled into this line of work, but from that moment I was determined and focused – I knew that this would be my goal. On reflection, this is what I meant to do,” Arday said, according to Wales Online.