I had a truly memorable time in the Sociology department at Essex though it wasn’t an easy ride. Entering as an adult through an ACCESS to Higher Education scheme with a failed school history behind me I was initially scared and overwhelmed by the perceived grandness of ‘ Academia’. A place where others belonged, not me.
The reading and course contents were exacting and challenging: at times mentally, physically and emotionally draining; at times energizing even exciting. The lectures were usually engaging and sometimes inspiring. Most seminars were stimulating, thought- provoking and sometimes fun.
The sense I gained from many of the department’s lecturers was that they cared how well their students did. That they wanted them to gain an understanding of the world as seen through the critical eye of sociology and to take this understanding into the world and make it a better place.
How fortunate I was to have studied Sociology at Essex when I did: at a time when human currency was as valuable as the monetary, market- driven kind; when academic rigour was imposed by approachable and caring academics who were themselves not yet consumed by the crippling demands of ratings and publications.
At the core of all this lay the departmental coffee room. It was a lifeline for us students and the departmental secretaries were truly the bees’ knees. What Brenda didn’t know wasn’t worth knowing, what she and Mary couldn’t fix wasn’t fixable. We students knew that the Brenda, Mary, Diane and Sue cohort was a precious resource: we suspected that they could have run the country better than any government before or since. It was also recognized that all work and no play make Sociologists a dull group. So play we did. The department was reputed to have the best parties and gatherings. And it did.
It was indeed a very special time. Over time Essex became my own. I belonged.
I was hooked. I began an MA. More agony. More challenges. More fun.
In 1994 Ken Plummer, who was then HOD, set up the post of Student Services Support Officer and the Resource Room. I had just completed my MA and made the seamless transition from student to staff . Helped by a myriad of very special students who dedicated their valuable time to running the show, the Resource Room grew to become an integral part of the department and student life.: a testament to a departmental ethos which understood the holistic principle of student growth & development.
My thanks go to the wonderful people who made my time at Essex so special and managed- despite my deeply rooted mistrust of ‘Theory’ – to convert me into the sociological way of viewing the world and its multiple realities. And now there’s no turning back.
Today I own and manage an Azienda Agrituristica in the hills of Umbria, Italy. Which amounts to being an unpaid administrator, cleaner, gardener, pool girl, receptionist, hostess and driver. The countryside is stunning, the place is beautiful, the food is great and the stress levels are low.
I remain curious and very interested in people and their individual and collective behaviours, in social structures, cultural diversity, inequality and education. Hence my role as Trustee (governor) at St Stephens International school in Rome where I currently hold the post of vice Chair of the Education Committee.