Dorothy Schoeneman, left, dances down the soul train line with Nicole Anderson
In this 2016 photo from PALETTE, an intergenerational arts program, Dorothy Schoeneman, left, dances down the soul train line with Nicole Anderson. (Photo by Steven Casanova, University Marketing)

VCU named an Age-Friendly University, a designation that puts inclusivity ‘front and center’

The university is the only institution in Virginia to receive the designation, awarded by the Gerontological Society of America.

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Virginia Commonwealth University has been designated an Age-Friendly University, and is now part of a group of 78 institutions worldwide that are members of the Age-Friendly University Global Network. VCU is the only university in Virginia to receive the designation.

“It’s a public commitment and an important piece of diversity, equity and inclusion,” said Tracey Gendron, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Gerontology in the VCU College of Health Professions. “We are really trying to be a role model. We are now among a group of people throughout the entire world that has committed to this.” 

The application process for the designation was led by Gendron and Jan Altman, Ph.D., executive director of IExcel Education in the Office of Institutional Equity, Effectiveness and Success.  

“We have been working on it for about a year,” Gendron said of the application. “This was important. We wanted to create an opportunity for all ages to thrive in this university.”

By receiving the designation, VCU is putting inclusivity “front and center,” Gendron said.

“As people live longer, this is an opportunity to embrace students at all stages of life,” she said.

VCU’s application outlined the ways in which the university upholds the 10 principles of an Age-Friendly University, which range from encouraging the participation of older people in all core activities of the university — including educational and research programs — to promoting intergenerational learning to facilitate the reciprocal sharing of expertise among learners of all ages.

One of the programs highlighted in VCU’s application was its service-learning classes and how they promote intergenerational engagement.

“It’s noteworthy that [this happens] organically all across the university,” Gendron said. “We were struck by the sheer number and breadth of age-inclusive awareness and activities that we discovered were already going on at VCU.”

In the application, Gendron and Altman also highlighted IExcel Education’s inclusion of the pervasive bias of ageism in its training content.

“IExcel Education was intentional in selecting a proposal to develop training on awareness of ageism and age-inclusive practices,” Altman said.

Altman and Gendron found they didn’t know how much work already was being done at VCU until their committee started reaching out to collect information about how the university upholds the 10 Age-Friendly University principles.

“It was gratifying to discover people who had the awareness and were already embracing anti-ageism in their work without being told or asked,” Altman said.

When the committee sent in the submission, it was noted that they prefer the terminology age inclusive or all age friendly rather than age friendly so as not to single out any age group but instead create a welcoming environment for learners of all ages.

“Age is a social identify that belongs to all of us, “Altman said. “We all age. It’s important to embrace the idea that aging is relevant to everyone. We don’t want to put labels on people. We aim for a higher standard. We want people to be mindful about being age inclusive. We hope to increase education to encourage anti-ageism and see what other steps VCU can make to demonstrate and model age inclusion.”