By: Sebastián Líppez-De Castro, GA, Institute for Multigenerational Studies
Dr. Maria Brown is an Assistant Research Professor in the Syracuse University Aging Studies Institute and, since 2010, an active member and Research Associate of the Binghamton University IMS Center on Aging. Her work has a multigenerational stamp as much as a challenging tone that demands that both academics and practitioners reconsider the role of life course effects on the later life of vulnerable and minority populations. LGBTQ and mentally ill elders, as well as breast cancer survivors, have a special place in her scholarship.
One of her most influential works is her article LGBT Aging and Rhetorical Silence (Sexuality Research and Social Policy Journal of NSRC, 2009 6 (4): 65-78). This article argues that “because we do not theorize about LGBT older adults, then they become invisible to academe, and that invisibility in academe translates to invisibility in practice for human services, etc.” This article has been widely cited and also has attracted attention from those initiating their own research paths. “A lot of doctoral students use it in their dissertations on a variety of different topics; […] it is making a difference, and mostly with junior academics and doctoral students, […] which is kind of exciting to me,” Doctor Brown acknowledges. If you read this article, you will find a provocative critique of both queer and gerontological theories for silencing LBGTQ elders in their relevant discourses, which might explain its positive response. Her argument “that this silencing is an extension of homophobia and heterosexism in gerontology and ageism in queer theory, […] thus rendering them invisible and powerless” (p. 66) is refreshing and engaging. But more importantly, her invitation to those in gerontology, even in critical gerontology, as well as to those in queer theory, to incorporate the life experiences of LGBTQ elders is highly stimulating.
Her article Early-Life Characteristics, Psychiatric History, and Cognition Trajectories in Later Life (The Gerontologist, 2010 50 (5): 646-656), also reflects an interest in better understanding and relating the effects of life course experiences in later years. This article derives from her dissertation and is inspired by her concerns about dementia caregiving and how society marginalizes mentally ill elders. In the case of this work, her claim is specifically oriented towards the practice of gerontology. Dr. Brown explains that “the life course impact of having […] mental illness is not understood by people in gerontology.” Furthermore, she continues, “older adults with a history of severe and persistent mental illness are generally invisible in geriatrics and gerontology.” In practice, she illustrates, this means that “you can have a history in the community as a seriously mentally ill person, and then you become a geriatric patient, and your psychiatric history […] disappears from your record, almost.” As a result, she highlights the importance of encouraging a specialization in psychology among those in gerontology, which could lead to better understanding and integrating psychiatric history in providing care to mentally ill elders.
Her scholarship also includes other exciting endeavors in the area of breast cancer survivorship and program evaluations. During the last few years she has been developing a research agenda around breast cancer survivorship. Dr. Brown describes her most recent research study as “an online survey of women who identify as being members of sexual minorities and who have also had breast cancer.” She has also participated as program evaluator in breast cancer education awareness projects with African-American communities and other community interventions.
Other IMS research associates interested in the life course effects on later life, in issues around LGBTQ or mentally ill elders, as well as in breast cancer survivorship and evaluating community interventions, will find in Dr. Brown a great partner with whom to collaborate. Specifically, those interested in her multigenerational stamp, and those interested in challenging theory and practice around aging, can review Dr. Maria T. Brown’s contact information and explore future collaborations. After all, as Professor Brown says, the IMS “has helped me build relationships across the region, from Syracuse to Binghamton.”