Activists have aged since the days when college students wore
tie-dyed tunics, donned peace symbols and sported long locks with
pride. A group of local activists consists of a few University
students and another atypical demographic: senior citizens.
Over the past two semesters, the Students And Seniors Alliance
has met weekly, originally hoping to change the world, although the
focus of their mission has since narrowed to one groups of people
living in Ann Arbor.
Now the group seeks to improve the relationship between the
University and University Living, an assisted living facility for
the elderly on South Main Street near Briarwood Mall.
The SAS Alliance includes a few University students who conduct
community activism, but an important part of the project involves
forging intergenerational relationships. It is “a very local,
close-to-home activism” that involves “taking control
of your own environment and shaping it to be what you’d like
it to be,” said Abbie Lawrence, a social work and sociology
graduate student who coordinates the group.
University Living founders Dean and Sari Solden said they
created the facility to foster a culturally and educationally rich
environment for seniors, which they had not seen at other nursing
homes and assisted living facilities.
“I saw that there wasn’t creativity in the health
care field,” Dean Solden said.
In 2001, the Soldens opened University Living, where senior
citizens can live in their own apartments relatively independent of
They attend lectures, take classes, form clubs, hold formal
discussions and even participate in University research. Their
objective was to create a social environment, rather than an
institutional one, Dean Solden said.
But to accomplish this goal, a close relationship with the
University was essential, Solden said. As a sign of this
relationship, emeritus Prof. Richard Adelman works as director of
University relations for University Living, but he mainly conducts
an intergenerational study with students in the Undergraduate
Research Opportunity Program. Adelman is the former director of the
University’s Institute of Gerontology.
The SAS Alliance has labored to realize Solden’s vision.
During the fall and winter, the group has made strides in their
quest, as they have lobbied to bring more students to the
Group members are seeking the help of professors in the Ginsberg
Center for Service and Learning, and two professors have expressed
interest in bringing the center’s participants to University
The Alliance spoke with Project Outreach, a Psychology 211 class
interested in placing students at the facility in the fall. In
mid-May, Lawrence will meet with two nursing professors also
interested in placing students.
Because some residents can take classes but cannot make it to
campus, students developed a list of at least 18 professors to
invite to speak in a “Visiting Professor Lecture
But the alliance has had difficulty achieving this goal. Some
challenges the group faces include finding the time to do activist
work, combating fatigue and coping with scheduling conflicts.
Despite their successes, students and senior citizens recognize
that the work must continue into next year.
“This is ongoing work. It’s not something that can
be done immediately. But we’ve made great steps so
far,” Lawrence said.
At first, the founders intended that the interaction between the
center and the University involve mainly research activity —
where professors would research assisted living — but then
the more personal, intergenerational component increased in
The Soldens tried to get every University department to send
students and faculty to University Living, but Adelman’s UROP
study remains one of the stronger connections between the two
“To have as much interaction as possible, I was hoping
that this would really be a haven for (retired) professors and
professors’ spouses. So every department was hoping to get
one professor or one grad student to come here, because
they’re all family,” Dean Solden said. “Your
retired professors are still part of your family.”
Some of the residents are retired professors, but not all are.
For example, Resident Loraine Erhard is a retired pediatrician.
Before choosing its current mission, the alliance spent several
weeks considering more than 80 other issues for community activism.
Ideas ranged from promoting literacy among middle school students
in inner city Detroit to getting President Bush out of office.
But when the group decided to focus on education — and
when one resident mentioned that education is not only for young
people — the Alliance chose to increase the
University’s involvement at University Living.
While students and seniors have sought to improve an
institutional relationship, they have also forged personal
relationships. The relationships have become close, Erhard
“I know everyone, and everyone’s friendly,”
LSA sophomore Bill Masch said. “I’ve changed a lot, and
I’ve been changed a lot.”
“I know so many people here. I feel comfortable here, and
I don’t even live here. I love this place,” LSA senior
Cecilia Hernandez said.
Integral to the group’s mission is a belief in the value
of intergenerational relationships and a belief that each
generation has a responsibility to take care of the other.
During the first few sessions, the Alliance discussed improving
their community through intergenerational cooperation and civic
Two meetings ago, the group debated which generation should bear
the responsibility of caring about important social issues.
Lawrence presented two scholarly articles, one holding students
responsible and one holding the elderly responsible.
One scholar assumed the elderly have time to care about other
generations and about society. But “time is the thing that we
need more,” Erhard said.
“I think students have time to care too,” resident
Dorothy Stetson added.
In the end, most agreed that each generation should help the
“I still think it’s a mix. I don’t think
there’s any one group of people that’s solely
responsible,” LSA freshman Brittany Bogan said.
“I think everybody should get involved in the needs of our
society,” resident Sy Krauth said. “That seems to me to
be a necessary part of the democratic system.”
Students and senior citizens hope their mission will continue,
even as this semester comes to a close. “These are the people
that are going to change the relationship,” Erhard said,
surveying the room before leaving a meeting two weeks ago.