An ideological journey

Caitlin Halfacre explains how political ideology is not static, but can evolve through experience.

Lucy Lawrence
18th March 2022
Image Credit: Geralt
With the UCU strikes taking place over the last few weeks, our campus has been alive with political debates. Many a heated dialogue has arisen, with students feeling conflicted between supporting strike action, and worrying about missed university content. Indeed, it can be difficult to not feel like campus has become a political landmine of kinds, where there is no straightforward solution to the current inequalities and dilemmas rampant in our institution.

However, these divides are only further complicated for postgraduate students across the country. Many have described feeling that their identities are almost split into two, as many are simultaneously a student and worker-- providing teaching for their departments while completing their doctorate degree.

Caitlin Halfacre is one such Ph.D. student who has struggled with balancing a student identity with her professional teaching role. As a final year linguistics postgraduate at Newcastle, she has been a vocal participant in the UCU strike action this semester-- avidly participating in rallies and joining picket lines.

The strikes have been based on these 'Four Fights'. Image Credit: UCU

However, such political activism has not always been a part of Caitlin's life. In fact, at one point in time, she actually identified with more right-wing ideology-- a stark difference to her quite radical leftist outlook today. I was curious how this political shift occurred, and so reached out to Caitlin for an interview. She very kindly agreed to meet me for a coffee to discuss her journey from right to left; from indifference to activism.

Before we delve further into the topic, Caitlin stressed the need for a disclaimer that although her politics are driven by faith, she is aware that other Christians may not necessarily agree with her perspectives.

Prior to her pursuit of Linguistics, Caitlin was actually a woman in STEM studying Chemistry. She shares that there was little political awareness or discussion within her circle of friends at Imperial College London. There were no elections during this period, and politics was a rarely touched-upon topic. The community surrounding her acted as a shelter from thinking too deeply about politics.

Moreover, Caitlin's experience of the Labour government in 2009 was clouded by Tony Blair's involvement in the Iraq War, which was then followed by the Financial Recession under Gordon Brown. From 1997 to 2010, Labour government leadership was viewed by many to have caused catastrophic economic, social and military precarity for the United Kingdom. Caitlin was partial to this view of politics, and so her worldview inevitably lent to the right.

Caitlin campaigning on the picket line. Image Credit: Caitlin Halfacre

Yet, Caitlin soon discovered a new academic passion, changing courses to Linguistics and moving to Newcastle University as a mature student at age 23. The change to her political outlook was slow, but steady, as she increasingly connected with political friends and academics. By the time she began to teach as a Ph.D. student, Caitlin had been exposed to hourly paid teaching-- yet still did not fully understand the political significance.

The first time that she participated in the UCU strike action was in 2018 during her master’s degree-- the period when the implications of neoliberal structures began to impact her livelihood and future career. A year later, her hope for the cause was renewed when the Autumn 2019 strikes did manage to win a re-evaluation of the pension scheme. Small victories powered Caitlin's activism and propelled her to begin organizing PGR students within the Newcastle UCU branch. Watching her fellow Ph.D. colleagues suffer inequalities and exploitative work conditions while holding a deep-held belief in the value and worth of all human beings, underpinned by her Christian faith, Caitlin's political conservatism shifted to leftist involvement with strike action.

Hence, Caitlin’s story shows us that politics are not static. Rather, they are ever-evolving for each individual as they grow and experience life. The friends, colleagues, and family we surround ourselves with act as vital influences in our political journeys. Whether your politics are guided by your values or faith, it is important to remember that change is okay. Political development is normal and should never be used to impose shame onto others. We are all constantly learning and growing, and should support one another within our current political landscape. Only with respectful engagement between the left and right-wing, can we hope to avoid developments of political indifference and radical extremism which cause tremendous harm to us all.

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