Working class backgrounds, and those that have battled through them, have similarities. Their willingness to fight to survive and fight to be recognised, is second to none. More often than not those innate characteristics remain with those individuals and drive them to be focussed, compassionate and empathetic academics. Bringing as many academics with lived experience in this area from across the globe, will increase the quality and authenticity of our work, will allow for greater collaboration and will hopefully pave the way for others, from similar backgrounds, to join the rough but rewarding world of academia.
As a child born into a battling, lower class family, in the wrong part of town, the idea of working in academia is as fanciful an idea as you could cobble together. My mother cleaned other people’s houses and my father was a self-employed butcher, who not only used my mother, my sibling and myself as punching bags, but also used alcohol and infidelity to hide his own issues. Getting out of there, gaining a doctorate and being in a position to try and influence change would be a 1000-1 shot and on par with seeing a unicorn.
This is not a unique type of story and is one that a large number of the people in our group probably share in some way or another. We faced the same challenges, faced the same fights to be relevant and still fight some of those challenges today. Many in the world would refer to us as being ‘working class’. The stories are similar and regardless of where we are around the world, the way we are approached to collaborate and share our lived experiences should be considered and promoted.
Understanding that academics, with working class backgrounds, have shared fighting qualities and in many instances, the desire to improve the world and lives of others, it is important that we are bought together. The ability to share our battles, share our lessons and support the ongoing battles of each other is essential. The most effective way to do this is through online engagement and encouraging collaboration and expansion of worldwide networks.
The ability for academics who may not have attended private schools, had two parents while growing up, experienced abuse of some form or had to skip meals because their parents couldn’t afford to feed them, and who are often labeled as being ‘working class’, to find like-minded, driven people is essential, yet difficult and requires concerted effort. The development of online sessions through the use of technologies such as Zoom or Teams that are based in London are effective for people in similar time zones, but not for people in places such as Australia, New Zealand and other areas. Although we can watch the online sessions when the time zone suits, we miss out on the engagement, collaborative opportunities and the sharing of ideas. It is often the time before and after formal sessions that the building of relationships occurs, a key element missing with the timing of these sessions. Further developing and incorporating the same type of sessions, at different times, could encourage a new audience and could open the group up to new opportunities, possibly being missed. Although, potentially making it challenging for some of the European members of the group with a diverse time, the sessions would allow for overseas members to actively be involved and open other opportunities yet to be explored or considered.
Meaningful collaboration is also essential. To remain employed in academia, or to gain employment in academia, finding a group of people to work and collaborate with is key. The ability to allow non formal collaborations to build through online discussions, a collaboration ‘job’ board or a designated email blast sharing collaboration opportunities, will assist the building of networks and the breaking down of geographic borders and limitations. The ability for academics to work together, write together and research together from across the globe will not only improve the quality of our work but also open the doors to funding and publication opportunities across the world.
The importance of increasing opportunities for working class academics will not only increase the quality of research being produced across the globe, but will also pave the way for others who face diversity in younger years to reach academia. Imagine a young student from a working class background, possibly from a single parent home, maybe living on a farm with working class parents or with a parent with a criminal record. Now imagine that young students burning desire to go to university, study and maybe even become an expert in a specific area such as education, medicine or even law. Now, finally, think what would happen to their dreams if they thought that their parents could not afford for them to attend or that their challenges were so intense that they had these dreams unfulfilled. An unfair situation for any young person, however, with the sharing and development of the Working Class Academics group across the globe, these young people will be exposed to success stories that may prove to be the role model and difference they are looking for. This group could realistically be life changing for many.
The horrors of Covid 19 have fast tracked many into the learning of new online technologies and the utilization of the protocols involved in using them. The time is now to expand the focus and message of the Working Class Academic group. Online methods are now second nature to us all and the opportunity to encourage others to join this group is also now. With the tertiary teaching system across the world going through immense changes due to Covid 19, more and more exceptionally talented academics with working class backgrounds and lives may be lost to the academic world. We need to reach out, find each other and it is simple when someone does, buy in, share your ideas, collaborate with someone you haven’t worked with before and start writing now. Together we are stronger, together we are better and together we can share our lived experiences with the world.