Jason Arday was diagnosed with global development delay and autism spectrum disorder as a child, and couldn’t speak until age 11, now he is the youngest Black professor, writes Brenton Blanchet
Jason Arday has achieved his once seemingly impossible dream of becoming a professor at the prestigious Cambridge University in England.
The 37-year-old sociology of education professor, who couldn’t read or write until he was 18, was diagnosed with global development delay and autism spectrum disorder as a child, and couldn’t speak until age 11.
Less than eight years ago, Arday was also told he’d need to be housed in assisted living and have lifelong support as an adult, but the Clapham, south London native wasn’t letting up. On his mother’s bedroom wall one day, he wrote a list of goals, one being: “One day I will work at Oxford or Cambridge.”
Despite being “violently rejected” at the beginning of his pursuit of teaching higher education, the professor now has a position at the No. 2 university in the world — and is the school’s youngest black professor at that.
“As optimistic as I am, there’s just no way I could have thought that would have happened. If I was a betting person, the odds on it were so long. It’s just mad,” Arday told The Times on Friday. “When I started writing academic papers, I had no idea what I was doing. 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.”
After his early diagnosis, Arday told The Times that he used sign language to communicate. Despite this, he eventually earned two master’s qualifications, a postgraduate certificate in education to become a PE teacher, and a PhD from Liverpool John Moores University.
He then got some much-needed encouragement to pursue a career in academia from friend and mentor Sandro Sandi. “I think you can do this,” he told Arday, per The Times. “I think we can take on the world and win.”
“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,” Arday told The Times. “On reflection, this is what I meant to do.”
After publishing his first paper in 2018, and securing roles at two universities in England, Arday became one of the youngest professors in the U.K. when he landed a job at the University of Glasgow’s School of Education. He intends to start at Cambridge University on March 6.
“My work focuses primarily on how we can open doors to more people from disadvantaged backgrounds and truly democratize higher education,” Arday, who has written about under-representation and racial discrimination in education, told The Times. “Hopefully being in a place like Cambridge will provide me with the leverage to lead that agenda nationally and globally.”