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‘I couldn’t read or write until I was 18’, the story of the autistic man who became the youngest black professor at Cambridge / Incredible

At the age of 37, Jason Arday became the youngest black person to hold a chair at the University of Cambridge, a center of learning that produced names such as Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin and Emma Thompson. Jason was diagnosed at age 3 with global developmental delay and autism spectrum disorder, ASD. At 11, he still couldn’t speak, and at 18, he couldn’t read or write.

At Cambridge, Jason Arday holds the position of Professor of Sociology of Education, one of the few held by a black person, as there are only 155 professors out of more than 23,000 in the UK. For many, the road may have been difficult and even unbelievable, but not for Jason, who, even before he could speak, was already asking the world, “Why are there homeless people? Why are there wars?

His development was largely due to his mother, who tried her best to help him by introducing him to a wide variety of music. The idea was to allow Jason to better understand the language. This helped the young man become interested in popular culture, which is still reflected in some of the research he conducted.

Another person who was very important in Jason’s development was his mentor, university professor and friend, Sandro Sandri, through whom the sociology professor began to read and write. After graduating, Jason studied PE and Educational Sciences at the University of Surrey in England and later trained as a PE teacher.

With this first training, Jason decided to work as a teacher in schools. Following this path, he begins to understand the inequalities that young people from ethnic minorities go through in their lives, especially when it comes to education. Through this view, he decides to go to graduate school and has the help of his mentor to follow this path further. For Jason, it was at this point that he began to believe in himself more: “A lot of scientists say they got there by accident, but from that moment on I was determined and focused. I knew that would be my goal.”

The path to success as an academic was more difficult as he had little training and guidance on how to do the work, with this he had many rejected exercises: “The peer review process was so brutal it was funny, but I managed it as a learning experience and without any logic I started to like it”.

After so many storms, the rainbow appeared. In this way, he received two master’s degrees and a doctorate in pedagogical sciences. His career in the university world began after he published a paper and thus obtained the first full professorship at the University of Roehampton, becoming one of the youngest professors in the UK.

Now, at Cambridge, he will be one of five black professors on the university’s teaching staff. There, Jason Arday plans to improve the representation of ethnic minorities in higher education: “My work is mainly focused on how we can open doors to more people from disadvantaged backgrounds and really democratize higher education. I hope that being in a place like Cambridge will give me the leverage to lead this program nationally and globally.”

For Jason, if there’s a message his story can leave behind, it’s that anything is possible: “I knew I didn’t necessarily have a lot of talent, but I knew how much I wanted it and I knew how hard he wanted to work.” But of course, without forgetting that not everything depends on unilateral efforts, the system also needs to change so that more people are covered and benefited by it.

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