Designing PURSUE – Our Launch Event

Sometimes I wish my note taking was a little more comprehensive and detailed. But then again 2020 came at us quickly, and 2021, so far, is doing the same. But right at the end of 2020 we had our first event – the launch of PURSUE as a network – and now, a total of three months later, we’ve caught our breath enough to reflect!

We wanted to create a space to introduce ourselves both as individuals and a network, something challenging, open, welcoming, collaborative and – just like us – with heart firmly on sleeve.

Making Pursue different

Class ties us together in an endeavour for social justice and in this network, we’re going avoid the corporate shine, keeping events free for those interested. Things may be rough and ready around the edges, and we’re not going to apologise for that. We want to be a voice for working-class WP practitioners and people, advocating for Social Justice not “Social Mobility”. We want that ethos to be in every single one of our events.

How do you do that after a year of staring at Zoom, phasing out in Teams and giving presentations at conferences and symposia to a field of camera-off, muted participants?

Pursue is about People

One of the things about using “Widening Participation Target Students” or “POLAR Quintile X” or any one of the hundreds of other terms we use in our profession is that they generalise, the student as the one size fits all recipient of what we do. Instead, we’re going to celebrate the differences, diversity and sheer range of experiences working class people have before, during and after Uni. You can see some of them below:

Starting off our launch with PURSUE committee members and their experiences meant that we opened up discussion straight away, immediately diving in to sharing what it meant to all of us to be working class – or to have been working class – in a higher education environment. On a personal level it all felt very freeing, like we’d started speaking about something that was supposed to be secret – and twitter reported much the same!

Collaborate and Listen

A Key aim of PURSUE (you can check our Seven Endeavours here) is to collaborate and share practice. Our Launch Event featured fantastic voices inside and out of the HE sector, allowing us to hear from academics, third sector, politicians and young people – all feeding into a broader discussion of what it means to be working class in higher education and beyond.

While we’ll follow up this reflection article with more info and details on the speakers and their work, definitely check them out on Twitter:

Prof. Nicola Ingram – @ingram_nicola Sociologist and Author

Duncan Exley – @Duncan_Exley Author and former Director of the Equality Trust

Gareth Snell – @gareth_snell Former Labour MP for Stoke Central

Chris Clarke, Roukagia and Lisae – @RECLAIMproject RECLAIM Project Director of Business Development and Participants

Making Space to Speak

For all that many of those who attended work in Widening Participation as project officers or managers, there isn’t usually a huge amount of space for us to speak about our own experiences at University – positive or negative – when they relate to our class identities. We work in a middle class environment, with working class young people, toeing the line between what the Office for Students pushes – Social Mobility – and what we work for – Social Justice. There’s a tension in that, and one that can lead us to hide who we are and why we’re doing it.

That’s why our launch event made space for people to talk about their own experiences, thoughts, values and lives in HE. We’re proud to be who we are, and many of us have faced similar barriers and challenges in our educational and professional journeys relating to our class. Sometimes, though, it’s bloody hard to talk about it, and turn those challenges into positives – opportunities to push the work we do further. Scott said it best on twitter, so I’ll leave further reflection to him:

Lessons and Learning

There’s a lot more to say about the Launch event – the incredible, inspiring speakers, the young people who shared their voices, aims and inspirations, the fact we had a spotify soundtrack that spanned Gresford to Chumbawumba, and the incredible drive to go away and put it all into practice that we left with – but for me, the important bit was that we launched out into the world showing the principles and practice we want to live by.

PURSUE is about people and their experiences, working class identities and good practice wherever it’s found. It’s about sharing, listening and learning. It’s about having a good chat in the breakout sessions that gets us all fired up to try new things, push boundaries and challenge inequalities. It’s about talking about class, learning about class and then living our class identities in higher education – and we’re going to carry on with that spirit.

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