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Meet Professor Catherine Harper

You're in a lift, how would you describe what you do?

I’m an artist who writes, a weaver by origin and a textile practitioner, a senior manager and educational leader, a feminist and a true believer in equality and social justice.

Who is, or was, your role model?

Mary Robinson, first female President of Ireland. I remember exactly where in Belfast I was standing when she won the election, and exactly how I felt as a young Northern Irish woman in 1990 when this crusader for women and those without a voice was elected.

Mary Robinson subsequently became an inspirational, transformational and effective United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, and is now an unwavering global justice advocate for those who are vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, typically the poor, the disempowered and the marginalised across the world.

I am also greatly inspired by John Hume, teacher, politician, founder member of the Derry Credit Union, and civil rights campaigner.

One of the chief architects of the Northern Irish Peace Process, co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize (with David Trimble), and recipient of both the Ghandi and Martin Luther King Prizes, I had the great privilege to meet this extraordinary Irish European and his wife, Pat, on a bus from Dublin to Newry.

What motivates you?

I’m an activist at heart, having been a founder member of the Animal Rights Movement of Northern Ireland, a CND/Anti-Apartheid campaigner, and a Greenham Common woman in the 1980s.

I’m motivated by social injustice and prejudice, and I strongly believe that personal actions are political.

I am motivated by the power of education to challenge assumptions, engage intellects, offer diversity of experience and perspective, and encourage individuals to become confident, kind, non-conformists.

How would you describe your leadership style?

I try to lead with courage, energy and enthusiasm. I try to make thoughtful choices, and I try to have the humility to take responsibility for errors and to share achievements. Basically, I try!

Describe your typical week?

Lots of University meetings, reading, emailing and social media; editing TEXTILE: Cloth & Culture journal; writing; dog walking/cuddling; and a big Sunday ironing session for my family that is my valued thinking time!  

What’s the biggest risk you’ve ever taken?

Leaving my creative career in Ireland and coming to England without a plan (all worked out ok in the end!)

Sum yourself up in 3 words?

Loyal, diligent, resilient. 

What advice would you give to your 16 yr old self?

I would advise myself to not worry about blushing.

City or countryside?


Sun or snow?


What's your pet hate?

Sand in my hair, can’t stick it.

What did you have for breakfast?

I’m attempting porridge. Black coffee and toast.

Which three women from history would you most like to invite to a dinner party?

Last year, I invited Rosa Parks, Mary Robinson and Joan Nestle.

I think this year I’d like Michelle Obama (for the great dancing), Dolly Parton (because she gives books to kids), and Caster Semenya (for her hard-won Olympic gold medal). 

If you could be a superhero who would it be?

I think it’s still Dobby, the free elf, for his super loyalty.