Jason Arday, autistic and once unable to speak, to become youngest Black professor ever at Cambridge University

There are currently five Black professors at the university.

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Sociologist Jason Arday did not learn to speak until he was 11 years old, but next month he’ll make history when he joins the University of Cambridge as the youngest Black person ever appointed to a professorship at the institution.

Arday’s ascension to the post represents more than one of his goals in life. Born and raised in Clapham, southwest London, the 37-year-old was studying for his Ph.D. 10 years ago when he created a list of personal goals. According to The Guardian, he wrote his aspirations on his mother’s bedroom wall. One of them read: “One day I will work at Oxford or Cambridge.” 

On March 6, that dream will become a reality when he officially becomes a sociology of education professor and that achievement is quite mind-boggling for the educator.  “As optimistic as I am, there’s just no way I could have thought that would have happened,” he said.

The professorship is made even more remarkable because when Arday was 3 years old, doctors diagnosed him with autism spectrum disorder and developmental delays. He didn’t begin to read or write until he was 18.

Arday brings to his new role a vast knowledge of race and inequality. As The Guardian reports, his earlier research at Durham and Glasgow will serve as a foundation for his efforts to address the lack of Black and ethnic people in higher education and academic careers and how to ensure more equitable educational outcomes.

 BBC research from 2018 found that Britain’s top universities paid Black and ethnic minorities less than their white counterparts. Arday points out that Black women were among the lowest paid. According to Nature.com, only 160 of the United Kingdom’s 22,855 professors are Black across all academic fields, and one-fourth are Black women. The BBC reports that there are only five Black professors at Cambridge.

“My work focuses primarily on how we can open doors to more people from disadvantaged backgrounds and truly democratize higher education,” Arday told the outlet. He is hopeful that working at Cambridge will give him “the leverage to lead that agenda nationally and globally.”

He also hopes to serve as an example and inspiration to those from under-represented backgrounds to pursue higher education. “Cambridge is already making significant changes and has achieved some notable gains in attempting to diversify the landscape,” he said, “but there is so much more to be done.”

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