OP-ED: Age does not define experience or qualifications

By Colette-Janae Buck, Chief Copy Editor

It has been customary for children and younger individuals to quiet their tongues and yield their opinions to their elders. We are taught that from a young age, what we think, what we need and what we feel pales in comparison to what those who are older than us think, need and feel.

Ageism, or discrimination against an individual due to their age, against young people in the United States is still legal under the 1964 Civil Rights act.  

Even in Washington state, RCW 49.44.090 provides protection against ageism in the workplace for those over 40, yet there are no legal provisions or statutes that help protect individuals under the age of 40 from being discriminated against in a workplace. Washington law RCW 49.60.205 sees to the normalization of ageism against individuals under the age of 40 by placing a limitation on RCW 49.44.090.

As a 19-year-old who’s graduating and going out into the workforce soon, I could be passed over for a position that I am duly qualified for if I disclosed my age to employers who felt I was too young. Because I was born after the Persian Gulf War but before 9/11, I could be excluded from a job, a conference or a meeting that I could provide a diverse perspective to.

I could be talked down to, patronized, dismissed and even laughed at for being in a position of power, and again, even passed over for a promotion or another opportunity simply because of my age.

Recently, in an attempt to make sense of my path and performance through college, I sought guidance from my department’s advisor to help me evaluate myself.

I have never had more than an acquaintable professional relationship with my advisor, and in this meeting, she essentially told me I should not be graduating because I am too young, nor should I be entering the workforce because I don’t have enough years etched into my face.

I was taken aback by what she had said to me. In her eyes, it seems, because I had ventured into college at 16 and graduated both high school and college at the age of 18, breaking the norm of what has been done for years before, I was not experienced enough to contribute to the world beyond taking out student loans every year.

It has always been a fear of mine to graduate and enter the workplace, only to be met with barriers and walls due to my age and an inferred “lack of experience.” It has become an even greater fear of mine that there are no legal protections in place to help combat ageism in the workplace.

I, and other young people, should not be punished in the eyes of our elders and our society because of our successes. If anything, we should be embraced and looked to with wonder for our fresh eyes and diverse experiences. At the very least, we deserve protections to help us find our footing in a world that looks to silence us until we have a few more forehead wrinkles pasted across our faces.