A Breath of Fresh Air
My name is Connor Drake, a 24-year-old working class Bradford lad. I grew up in Clayton and I’m the first person in my family to go to university.
University was never appealing to me when I was younger. I think this was mostly because I never saw it as something I could do. I messed around in school, spending time in isolation for stupid reasons such as truanting and fighting. I’m not sure why that was, maybe pressure to conform, or maybe just me being an idiot. But I left school with no GCSE’s higher than a D and moved on to Bradford College where I studied BTECs in IT and Health and Social Care. These BTECs were practical courses but not directed towards higher education; they allowed me to figure out what I wanted [and did not want to do].
“I don’t think you realise how much things have an impact on you, and looking back, my educational experience has led to me becoming the person I am, and even though it was a difficult time I’m really glad of the journey I’ve had.”
Resitting my GCSEs instilled a drive in me to pursue academic study, which had likely come with maturity and extracurricular interests. It would be remiss however, to neglect to mention the help of three tutors, Fran, Rob and Fernando who were extremely supportive in helping me to believe in myself and my abilities. Perhaps more importantly though, we often discussed politics and punk rock, and this was great; it felt like we were on the same wavelength. It is an incredible privilege to still be able to count them as friends to this day. After finishing my GCSEs, I then completed an access course in Humanities and Social Sciences, which was the stepping stone to study Social Policy at the University of York. During my degree, I chose to focus my studies around areas including poverty and welfare reform, before looking and how this affects Bradford in my dissertation. These areas interested me so much as I hold a deep conviction about upholding justice and fairness and something struck me that British society is neither just or fair.
In my time at university, I also organised and led campaigns for the representation of working-class students who often face issues which people from other class backgrounds don’t; these include but are not limited to: money problems, struggling to fit in and getting used to academic language. Of course, these issues are not exclusively faced by students from working-class backgrounds, but it is widely understood, that Higher Education is an environment which can be more difficult for working-class people to adapt to than other groups. I faced a lot of hostility for my campaigning, which I believe was due to certain members of the university community, and our society more broadly, not feeling comfortable with people talking about their class background. There is a feeling that this is challenging them personally, when actually we were only trying to normalise the experiences of working-class students and challenge the socio-economic system within the UK, which essentially consigns lots of people from disadvantaged backgrounds to a life of deprivation. University is painted as a place that will open a million doors; and it was, don’t get me wrong. But every single one of the doors that was opened for me, I opened myself, whether that be through my degree, my campaigning. University has, without a doubt, given me a unique perspective on life and a deeply-held conviction to give back to communities and to support people.
After graduating, I searched around for a job before having to claim Universal Credit. It was quite jarring for someone to go to university and then having to claim benefits. But I am lucky to get a job not soon after, and I know this is not the case for everyone.
“Recently, I’ve been thinking about Learning to Labour by Paul Willis. Mine and other people’s experiences – working class educational experiences, particularly those of young working class men, isn’t always seen as something that’s positive, education is seen as somewhere to – as Willis says – ‘ave a laff’ It’s not seen as somewhere to better yourself. Positive reinforcement comes from bad behaviour, truancy, bullying of peers, within that sphere these are a positive. University just isn’t something that fits with the community that I grew up in.
I’ve realised that as I’ve grown older, I’ve slowly become able to make education fit around me, rather than make myself fit into it. I’ve seen the importance of higher education and also have been able to engage with it more because of the academic freedom it gives you. I’d like to do a postgraduate degree focused on inequalities, specifically the impact that these can have on the lives of people and their communities. It’s so much more complicated than we often think and are often told by the media and politicians, and I find people’s lived realities fascinating. We’re seeing active support for disadvantaged people and those in poverty on a national and global level. I’d like to study that, and ultimately influence a change in our society, whereby people can live their lives without expectations and pressures. I think that we should concentrate on living a good life and taking care of our environment rather than thinking about the economy all the time, and if I can use my platform and my privilege of going to university to highlight inequalities in society, you’d better believe I’m going to do that.