Forming Her Activism


Childhood learning

Olive Bryanton was raised to regard elders as important members of their community who were worthy of esteem based on an accumulation of life experience. Older family members were respected for their wisdom and acted as mentors for younger members. This was not so much discussed but rather a lived reality. As a child, for example, Olive would never have imagined that anyone would abuse an older person—"It was just unthinkable!"—but life experience has unfortunately forced her to accept that senior abuse is a prevailing reality.

University-based learning

You have to kind of grab the opportunities as they present themselves.

After working as a Licensed Nursing Assistant, Olive enrolled as a full-time mature student in UPEI for four years, graduating with a degree in Sociology and Canadian Studies. She realized at once that older, mature students were given little recognition whether they lived on or off campus, which motivated her to join forces with some of her peers to start the association called Mature and Part-time University Students, or MAPUS.

As it happened, UPEI was in the process of changing the university's governing legislation at this time, and seeing her chance to gain a seat for part-time and mature students on the Senate, Olive and her group lobbied skilfully and swiftly to ensure a seat would be built into the legislation.

She got wind that the UPEI Student Council was about to make changes to its constitution, and one of the changes was to impose a fee on part-time students without offering any voting privileges in return. As a full-time student, Olive offered to help with the re-writing process. The Council knew why she offered to help and responded with an offer of a non-voting seat for Part-time students. A non-voting seat was not acceptable to Olive. So rather than compromise a principle, the Student Council decided not to impose a fee on part-time students. MAPUS became the representative of part-time students and collected the fee to provide services for that segment of the student population.

Undaunted, and looking for learning opportunities, Olive got her chance when she was invited to serve on the Board of the Canadian Organization of Part-time University Students (COPUS), which turned out be just what she wanted - "a real learning experience" about the role of part-time students in Canadian Universities and the economics and politics of post secondary university education as it related to educational choices for part-time students.

Undervaluing seniors

It would be nice if somehow we could pass some knowledge on [as seniors] and people would accept it and not have to repeatedly make the same mistakes.

Olive was gathering many examples of what was, in effect, self-prejudicial thinking by seniors—an internalized devaluation absorbed from social beliefs that they were no longer useful to their community. Such thinking, Olive thought, could only lead to the unnecessary waste of resources.

You saw seniors—people who retired from very responsible jobs—start to think they knew nothing. They felt they didn't have anything to contribute and their knowledge was passé… many thought because they were not computer literate, they had nothing else to offer.

This lack of social recognition and self-respect were not the only problems Olive was gathering into her critical thinking net.