While college campuses are known to be full of fresh young minds, researchers at Temple’s Intergenerational Center claims that age is just a number.
Researchers in the Intergenerational Center have examined how age influences our prejudices and contributes to discrimination.
“Age matters, [and] that’s why we have laws for certain things,” sophomore business major Huiwen Situ said. “You wouldn’t want a 13-year-old to vote for your next president.”
Still, Mady Prowler, Intergenerational Center staff member and director of the center’s Time Out Respite program, thinks people tend to overlook ageism.
“It’s not good to be against anyone of a different race, but with ageism, it’s not looked upon as something bad to do,” Prowler said. “I can’t think of any other ‘ism’ you can get away with.”
The center was founded by Executive Director Nancy Henkin, a leading researcher in ageism, or unequal treatment based on age. Since the center’s founding in 1979 as a part of the College of Health and Social Work, Henkin and the staff have dedicated their time toward analyzing our preconceptions about what it means to be young or old.
Among the center’s support systems that help bridge the age gap are Project SHINE and the Time Out Respite.
“[It’s about] bringing different ages together and having them understand what the connection should be,” Prowler said. “When [the students] are involved, it builds strong communities [that are] very inclusive. [Those are] the lessons we teach them.”
Project SHINE helps communicate these lessons by involving elderly immigrants with adult volunteers and college-aged support staff to create a triangle support system. The triangle system encourages volunteers, or community “newcomers,” and the society receiving support to achieve a higher level of acceptance.
Through this acceptance, members of SHINE believe language, education, health, wellbeing, economic mobility, citizenship and civic participation are fostered.
SHINE also breaks down barriers in the classroom by training its student and adult volunteers to educate older immigrants on the tenets of workplace self-efficacy. SHINE teaches immigrants English and other marketable skills through bi-weekly classes that are often taught by work-study students or individuals skilled in tutoring.
“Age is becoming more important because of the skills each generation has,” sophomore accounting major Tepa Johnson said. “This younger generation was born in the time of technology…so [younger people] should make it easier on people who weren’t born into this age of technology.”
SHINE student volunteers might be teaching men and women two or three times their age the basics of literacy. Through SHINE, boundaries surrounding age in education, including the idea that phonics are learned in childhood, are stretched to be more inclusive.
Through this inclusiveness, young people can try their hand at mentoring while older people have the opportunity to learn a new skill.
“So many of our younger people really appreciate these older folks, because they’re not an older person; they’re a person,” Prowler said.
SHINE also partners with many prominent organizations to create a marketplace of ideas among the young, old and in-between. Through work with AmeriCorps Philadelphia, SHINE brings wellness information to the elderly immigrant community. Also, through work with immigrant-serving organizations, the program’s participants bridge gaps between cultures to ensure full civic engagement.
A look at popular culture suggests a glorification of youth. Older people, despite their accomplishments, are often thought to be out of the loop.
“Age definitely matters,” sophomore psychology major Annie Jacob said. “But the main priority should be experience and qualifications. Those things don’t necessarily correlate with age.”
With these nuances in mind, the Intergenerational Center resolves to change the conversation and attempt to avoid polarizing the elderly.
“Our students cross the boundaries of what it means to be old and see these people as friends, as someone from whom they can learn,” Prowler said in reference to her program, the Time Out Respite.
Time Out Respite partners those caring for elderly relatives with proxy caregivers for eight hours every month. This allows primary caregivers to take a break while knowing their relatives are engaged and cared for.
The college volunteers are trained to meet the specific needs of the older population and to relate to them in a way that fosters a relationship between both individuals. By helping the elderly with meal preparation, laundry, changing bed linens, light grocery shopping, assistance into the bathroom and service as medical escorts, the students enter the lives of those they are helping.
“One of the students [in the program] is head of the dance team at Temple,” Prowler said. “She got together with [an elderly participant] and they danced. He has dementia, but he had a ball.”
Through a myriad of programs and research into ageism, the Intergenerational Center is looking to evolve society’s ideas of age by rendering it nothing more or less than the number it is.
“There [is a] community for all ages,” Prowler said.
Lora Strum can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org