Alex Culvin: From the pitch to the classroom
To celebrate International Women’s Day, Dr Alex Culvin shared an exciting glimpse into her life and how she went from professional footballer to teaching at the University of Salford Business School.
This year’s theme for International Women’s Day (IWD) is #ChooseToChallenge – the idea of challenging situations and experiences that go against gender equality.
Alex revisited the challenges she faced growing up and leading a career as a professional footballer, but also the many things she achieved, including getting her PhD and teaching Business Management with Sport at Salford Business School.
“The earliest memory I have of playing sports is being quite active at like seven or eight,” she recalled. “Football is really valued in Liverpool, so it was the go-to sport.”
At nine-years-old, Alex first taste of playing for a club was when she was picked up by Everton, where she stayed until she was eighteen.
Playing football as a kid was not a problem when it was with her cousins and brother at her nan’s house, but in secondary school, that was where the bullying began.
“The lads in our school were like, ‘oh you’re a lesbian, you’re manly’,” she recalled, “and all those other stereotypical associations which are probably still a barrier for girls participating in football and other male-dominated sports today.
“It was really difficult for me to take. Probably at that time, too, I knew I was gay, so it was really personal. The girls who weren’t gay kind of brushed it off, whereas it cut me very deep.
“It was a challenge, an experience, but one that shaped me as well.”
Alex eventually went on to do her undergraduate degree in 2008 before following up with a master’s and PhD at the end of her football career at Liverpool FC.
“I was a little apprehensive about doing a PhD,” she said, “because I thought the master’s was pretty challenging academically, as it should be, and I wasn’t sure if I had the capacity to do more.”
With the encouragement of her marker for her master’s dissertation, ex-professional footballer Martin Roderick, Alex went on to do her PhD and then applied to teach at the University of Salford.
“I really enjoy teaching,” she shared. “I find it quite nerve-wracking in a lot of ways because there’s a lot of responsibility. You’re teaching the next generation of people and I take it quite seriously.
“But I think my teaching methods are quite chilled out. I like to lecture but I also like to learn from students because young people have so many interesting ideas, and how they see the world will shape the next generation.”
Gender studies has always been a passion of Alex’s, especially as it was the underpinning theory in her PhD research. She compared IWD to Valentine's Day, believing you don't need one day to celebrate but rather should celebrate every day.
“Celebrating IWD raises awareness that gender equality is so far away. People who have come before us have fought hard for us to be accepted and considered equal to men, but we need to go beyond that.
“I’m kind of tired of the trope that we need to be equal to men. It’s not about being equal or better, it’s about being a woman and doing things and not being compared to a man.
“Whilst I will celebrate IWD and always do – because I have so many strong women around me – I think it’s more about unifying women rather than fracturing them. And asking ourselves, how do we move forward now?”
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