"Books that are written in order to educate should not make learning a chore"Giammarco Boscaro

“Knowledge that is not accessible is not helpful”: words wisely written by journalist Gloria Steinem in her book Revolution from Within. Despite claiming to be an institution that prides itself in its positive contribution to society, Cambridge has yet to realise how separatist the world of academia can be.

A sentence in one of my recommended weekly readings read: “It gave the poor an agency that accounts of the re-labelling of transactions of mutual reciprocity as acts of charity and poor relief by local elites are in danger of missing, and it helps us to see them as subjects, not objects, in the history of poor relief.”

“Cambridge has yet to realise how separatist the world of academia can be”

Even after reading this section several times and showing it to my friends, I still had no idea what the author meant. The run-on sentence, the forced ambiguity, and the complex phrasing made it unreadable. This is not a one time occurrence either. Most of the books I read for my subject contain unintelligible writing that not only fails to explain a concept, but also spins off into long, needless, and frankly pretentious paragraphs. My friends, despite studying a variety of other subjects, experience the same level of ambiguous and elitist literature. Why is it that we continue to make learning inaccessible? Why do we feel the need to dress up our words?

Whenever I think about the overblown style of academic writing that I experience daily, I am reminded of Michael Gove’s statement that ”the people of this country have had enough of experts.” Far be it from me to ever agree with anything Gove has to say, but I think this shows that the divide between academics and non-academics, experts and non-experts, is widening. The wider public do not trust academics – and why should they? Anti-intellectualism is on the rise. It was very present in Trump’s campaign against ‘fake news’ (otherwise known as information that contradicts his opinion). Experts should speak on their fields of research, but by enabling and funding their linguistic elitism, institutions like Cambridge exclude those who want to learn and tell them that the academic world is not for them. Literature becomes an inheritable legacy, kept within the family; a language that even those who speak it don’t understand; a legacy that, historically, has been owned by the middle and upper ranks of society, wherein rich, white men dominated university education.

“Literature becomes an inheritable legacy, kept within the family, a language that even those who speak it don’t understand”

Yet we continue to solidify this divide. In 2018, the Sunday Times Good University Guide claims that only 10% of students who attend Cambridge University consider themselves to be working class. As Luna Castelli argues perfectly in her article, ′Navigating Academic Elitism’, ‘it isn’t enough to open the doors of an institution to minority communities while keeping everything within that institution structured in the same ways that attributed to keeping them out for so long.’ Academic elitism is an insult to ethnic minorities and the working class, who have struggled for years to be embraced by academic institutions, only to still face exclusion.

This remains a worry within the Cambridge community. Girton College’s Class Act Officer, Lily Parry, commented on this inaccessibility in academia, stating that it seems as if ‘reading academic journals ... can only be for people who have been taught how to read them.’ The study of humanities already has the reputation of resulting in fewer job opportunities, so unless we make the inaccessible accessible, academia may suffer a grisly death.

Vanity seems the greatest evil. Academics often appear too eager to show everyone just how many long words they know. There are so many interesting discussions to be had, and reading about them shouldn’t make you feel like bashing your head repeatedly against a wall. If “obscurity,” as argued by Martha Nussbaum, “creates an aura of importance,” those who are responsible for the vague writing polluting my weekly reading lists must be the most important people on earth. In the modern world, there are so many other ways for narcissistic men to stroke their egos – so why take it out on our education?


Mountain View

The Super League of Elite Universities

The solution is clear: stop the ambiguity. Those writers who struggle to make their point clear could consider writing out concepts in short and simple sentences. By providing examples and losing the inflated rhetoric, we can make academia accessible. Although I would not condemn personal aesthetic preferences, books that are written in order to educate should not make learning a chore.

We are university students, not robots. After being set eighteen readings and three worksheets, the last thing we need is to struggle through yet another self-important article. Every single time I read the word ‘ergo,’ a part of my soul withers and dies.

How can Cambridge possibly contribute to the world as an institution if we are not willing to challenge our traditions and change? The university is not using its position of power to improve society. Rather, it is using it to maintain its 812-year-old habit of classism. This is a topic written about time and time again, and yet our reading lists are still flooded by authors whose editors have clearly never heard of the word ‘no.’ Reading lists should be updated, and weekly essays and dissertations should be monitored for the signs of a problematic writer in the making. When we eat the rich, I hope we first devour those who use the word obfuscate unironically.