Disrupting the ‘Old’ Argument – VCU Gerontology is working to end ageism in Richmond and beyond

by | Apr 21, 2016 | POLITICS

When most academic departments at VCU celebrate a 40th anniversary, they don’t promise a Day of Disruption to take over an entire neighborhood.

When most academic departments at VCU celebrate a 40th anniversary, they don’t promise a Day of Disruption to take over an entire neighborhood. But VCU Gerontology has a steeper hill to climb than most. We’re working to end ageism in society.

Examples of everyday ageism can be found everywhere in Richmond, whether it’s in the workplace or in the line at the grocery store. A few examples of stigmatizing old age include calling older people “young lady” or saying someone “looks good for their age.” If we’re lucky, we’ll all be older someday. We need to talk about aging not as a problem to be solved, but a process we should embrace. And then there’s simply the numbers: Older adults represent the fastest growing segment of the U.S. population. By 2030, the number of people in our region age 65 and over will double and those age 85 and over will more than triple.

So on April 22, you’ll see VCU Gerontology around Carytown promoting not only our 40th anniversary but our mission to end ageism that seeps through every layer of daily discourse in society. What is gerontology? Put simply, it’s the scientific study of age, aging, and the aged.

This study includes aspects of the social, psychological, and physical/biological spheres of aging. But for VCU Gerontology, it’s a social movement and academic program rolled into one. We’re working to call attention to statements that needlessly stigmatize, change attitudes that affect your loved ones’ and your own health, and call out discrimination that holds communities back.

We’ve seen the effects of ageist norms play out in Richmond beyond our own personal experiences. As the discussion in Richmond surrounding Bus Rapid Transit came to a decision point, we saw some attempt to turn the debate into “old” versus “young.” One Twitter user summed up BRT’s supporters’ victory by saying: “Richmond, I’m gonna hold y’all to something, and it’s important: No more being tepid on good ideas just because The Grumpy Olds oppose them.”

This Richmonder is probably well-meaning, but this Tweet represents so much of the issue we face in a city often reduced to an “old” versus “new” dynamic when we talk about progress. Older Richmonders face the issues of poverty, food access and health care just like anyone else, which means their opinions on everything from bus routes to baseball stadiums can’t be pigeonholed. Dismissing a group of people by assigning them a “grumpy” label is harmful, yet this kind of language is prolific. When you “other” someone, you’re harming them. Studies show ageism has clear impact on cognitive skills, and ageism itself is contagious. A fear of aging transfers easily to others in through both words and actions.

We’re doing what we can to change the conversation. VCU Gerontology wants to raise the level of discussion about progress in Richmond by eliminating ageism from the conversation and raising issues about aging that are too often ignored. On April 22, we invite anyone who wants to learn more about our program, or ageism in general, to come out to Carytown.

We will host a reception at the Mott Gallery and exhibit some of our student work from will take 4-6 p.m.

The event is free but registration is required, available here. You can then join us as we take in a performance from Dr. Bill Thomas, a nationally renowned physician working to “disrupt” aging who will bring his TED Talk-music performance hybrid to the Byrd Theatre.

We hope to see you there.

Catherine MacDonald is a gerontologist who researches and writes about aging-related issues in the region, including transportation. She earned her MS in Gerontology from VCU in 2015.

Brad Kutner

Brad Kutner

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