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Shepherdstown SAIL group holds intergenerational discussion

By Staff | Apr 4, 2017

Chronicle photo by Vanessa McGuigan Shepherd students meet with member of SAIL to discuss psychology of aging.

What do college students and senior citizens have in common? More than they would have thought.

Shepherd University students in the Psychology of Aging class met with members of Shepherdstown Area Independent Living (SAIL) to discuss generational differences.

SAIL president, Carolyn Rodis, facilitated the discussion by asking questions that illuminated the perceptions that different generations have about each other. Rodis said this was “an exercise to help bridge the gap of generations, and perhaps dispel frequent misconceptions.”

The group first engaged in discussions about rocking chairs, piercings, tattoos and the use of communication with technology to gain an understanding of culture and generational perspectives.

“The reason we bring all this up,” said Rodis, “is that we do all have biases-some valid, some not, but we all have them. We live in different cultures. What do we do about it? How do we overcome it? Or does it matter?”

Attendees indicated differences and perceptions do matter if people want to communicate inter-generationally, and lack of ability to do so could have a detrimental impact, especially on family relationships. Notably, the older generation made comments that they should be more willing to listen and “just get over it” regarding preconceived notions about a person’s physical appearance.

“Except for family members, the people with whom we associate, with whom we are the closest, tend to be in our own generation,” said Rodis.

After group discussion, the agenda moved to one-on-one feedback. The students’ assignments were to develop a hypothesis on a certain aspect of aging and informally collect data by asking survey questions.

One student, Grace Simmons, asked about the concept of the “social clock”, which is a cultural timetable of accepted norms for events like graduating, getting married and having children and starting a first job.

“I’m finding that older adults don’t feel as strongly about adhering to the social clock because they’ve lived their lives and have the benefit of hindsight. They think that life just happens the way that it does. I think younger people are paying more attention to it and feeling more pressure to adhere to the social clock.”

Destinee Myers had a hypothesis that older people are more politically conservative, and while seniors in Martinsburg at the senior center upheld her supposition, seniors in Shepherdstown were more politically liberal than she anticipated.

“I guess it makes sense though because Shepherdstown seems to be a more liberal area than Martinsburg in general, just based off last year’s election results,” said Myers. “I may have to go somewhere else and test my hypothesis since there seems to be a tie.”

Overall, the students were surprised to have more in common than they thought with the older generations regarding viewpoints on technology, the environment and same-sex issues.

SAIL members said they would like to continue to communicate with the students and were invited to sit on the Psychology of Aging classes, as well as look for ways to better improve communication on campus between the older and younger demographics.

For more information on SAIL, visit shepherdstownsail.org.