The Record's Q&A with Ruth Finkelstein

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Columbia News sat down with Associate Director Ruth Finkelstein recently. The result is a Faculty Q&A that begins:

Ruth Finkelstein has spent her career as a researcher and advocate for groups that might otherwise be ignored. She worked in the reproductive rights movement, then moved on to HIV/AIDS with the outbreak of that epidemic as policy director for the Gay Men’s Health Crisis. As the head of a research team at the New York Academy of Medicine, she focused her attention on drug users and sex workers with HIV because “they were not considered worth saving.”

After she became senior vice president for policy and planning at the Academy of Medicine, her research on drug policy helped lead to the 2009 repeal of New York state’s tough Rockefeller-era drug laws, eliminating mandatory minimum prison sentences and allowing judges to send some first-time offenders to treatment programs.

At around the same time, Finkelstein realized there was another fast-growing group that needed attention. “It seemed that aging was being treated more like a disease than a stage of life,” said Finkelstein. “Older people, with so much to offer society, were missing out on options and opportunities.”

Now she is associate director of Columbia’s Robert N. Butler Aging Center, which tackles issues ranging from life expectancy to quality of life, conducts research and makes policy recommendations. Its namesake, Butler, (CC’49, P&S’53) was a geriatrician and psychiatrist who founded the International Longevity Center, which moved to the Mailman School of Public Health and was renamed in 2011 after his death.

Under the leadership of Psychology Professor Ursula Staudinger, the center focuses on the idea that human aging can be modified because biology, behavior and cultural factors play a part in how we develop across the life span.

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View videos from a breadth of Columbia's aging experts here.