Breaking Boundaries and Creating Change: The Story of Jason Arday 

Arday makes history 

The University of Cambridge is largely regarded as one of the oldest and most prestigious academic institutions in the world. Recently, the world-renowned university received its newest professor: 37-year-old Jason Arday, who made history as the university’s youngest Black professor. Arday has defied the odds in more ways than one. After being illiterate until he was 18, he has since become a highly respected scholar in his field, the sociology of education. Arday is showing the world why representation matters.

Defying Odds in Education

When Arday was three years old, he was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), which looks different for every person. In Arday’s case, he was not able to speak until he was 11 years old. He couldn’t read or write until he was 18 and was told he would spend his adult life in assisted living. Even so, when he was 22, Arday told one of his academic mentors, Sandro Sandri, that he was considering working toward a Ph.D. Sandri’s belief in Arday inspired him to pursue his educational dream. Arday went on to complete two master’s degrees as well as a Ph.D. in educational studies. 

When he was 27 and was working on his Ph.D., Arday wrote a list of personal goals on his parents’ bedroom wall. The goal at the top of the list: “One day I will work at Oxford or Cambridge.”

Since then, Arday has accomplished that goal and is now the youngest Black professor in the history of Cambridge. In an interview with The Times of UK, Arday said, “My work focuses primarily on how we can open doors to more people from disadvantaged backgrounds and truly democratize higher education.” 

Arday wants to increase the representation and opportunities in education for people of color. Arday has authored and co-authored many books and has been a trustee at the UK’s leading race equality think tank, the Runnymede Trust. He has worked tirelessly toward educational equity but does not stop at the school doors. The UK Government, as well as the Scottish and Welsh Parliaments, have reached out to Arday to help create anti-racism strategies. 

Reframing Conversation around Autism

Education Professor Dr. Deborah Van Duinen 
(Photo Credit: Hope College Website) 

Oftentimes, people frame the condition of autism as something to be overcome rather than embraced. Additionally, there has been a lot of stigma surrounding illiteracy, especially in the academic field. With his story, Arday has proved both of these misconceptions wrong. 

While illiteracy has been a complicated topic, Jason Arday’s story proves why people should not make assumptions about someone’s intelligence based solely on the skills they have. To further discuss this complex subject, the Anchor reached out to Hope College’s Dr. Deborah Van Duinen. Dr. Van Duinen, an Association Professor of Education at Hope College, has been a primary supporter of literacy in the Holland community through the Big Little Read Program. In response to the stigma that surrounds illiteracy in the US, Dr. Van Duinen said, “Where this term gets messy is that there are, in fact, multiple ways of being literate that include speaking, listening, viewing, and representing. When we define people as illiterate, we aren’t acknowledging the many other ways they have learned to acquire, use and produce knowledge.” 

Dr. Van Duinen wanted people to understand that defining someone as illiterate “…doesn’t address who they are as holistic beings.” In Jason Arday’s case, a person would be sorely mistaken if they mistook his lack of reading and writing at an early age for a lack of intelligence. Through his hard work and support from those around him, Arday has made important strides in the field of education and works for the betterment of educational opportunities for all marginalized people.

University of Cambridge’s youngest Black professor, Jason Arday, 37-years-old. (Photo credit: University of Cambridge)

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