Meet Olivia Sullivan, Social Work Professor

Arts instructor Olivia Sullivan
Arts professor Olivia Sullivan takes a break to answer some questions.

'Our students are passionate, smart, critical thinkers who will change the world'

What is your education?

I have a Bachelor of Social Work and Master of Social Work from UBC.

What is your area of interest? 

My area of interest is in promoting gender equality, specifically in the area of violence against women. I am interested in policy changes that will result in survivor-shielded law enforcement, particularly in criminal investigations and prosecutions of those who commit acts of violence against women including sexualized assault. In my counselling practice, I promote the use of feminist and response-based practice, which aims to empower those who have experienced violence.

When did you know you had found your discipline? 

In my third year of my BSW, I had the opportunity to complete a practicum at the local women's centre. I received a call from a woman who was going through a very challenging situation involving an abusive ex-partner. I spoke with her for quite a while, I heard her story, I empathized with her and affirmed her plan to protect herself and her children. I consulted with my supervisor after the call, who told me that, essentially, the laws in place prevented this woman from protecting herself and her children in the way she intended. I was shocked and angered that our system would allow ongoing abuse to occur in these situations, and my drive to change the context told me I was in the right place. My passion has been reinforced every time I hear of someone experiencing oppression from a system that they expected to help them.

Why did you choose to work at Okanagan College?

I work at OC because we have incredible students. I had exceptional university instructors, and I hope to encourage and teach my students in the same way. Our students are passionate, smart, critical thinkers who will change the world.

What do you like the most/least about the work you do?

The most encouraging thing I can hear from a student or a client is that I have helped them to see something differently. For a student, this can mean that they are seeing a social issue in a way they hadn't considered before, perhaps from a more critical or anti-oppressive perspective. For a client, this can mean they see strength within themselves they had forgotten was there. Either way, the shift can lead to justice and change, which is what social work is all about.

Favourite teaching experience?

My favourite teaching experience was working with a student who had dropped out of high school and come back to college many years later. She doubted her abilities but had incredible drive and resilience. She came to me for help with her first essay, and I learned a bit about her story and goals for the future. Thankfully, she received enough encouragement that term to do very well and move on to a degree. I love to see when students flourish beyond their own expectations!

Who gave you the best advice you ever received? 

My oldest daughter, when she was three years old, said to me, "I want to be just like you!" I always try to keep this in mind, and while it isn't technically advice, it helps me to remember to be a person worth emulating. The idea of changing the world for the next generation is a cliche, certainly, but it is also true - I want for my children to live in a society that values them, appreciates them and provides a reasonable expectation of safety and equality. I want them to one day be able to look back and say, "Wow, remember when women had to live in fear in their own homes? I'm so glad our mothers and grandmothers fought so hard to change that."

Where are you the happiest?

On the beach with my kids!

What matters most to you right now? 

What matters to me most right now, and perhaps always, is learning. Learning what needs to change, how we can change it, and how best to influence other change-makers and power-holders.

If you ran the world?

If I ran the world, there would be no narcissists running countries! We would live in a more collective society, where we care for each other, and aim to improve the status of the most marginalized. We all benefit when the most oppressed are made equal.

Published By Public Affairs on February 19, 2020


Introduction to Social Welfare in Canada (SOCW 200B)

This course is an introduction to and analysis of major social policies and programs in Canada. Emphasis will be given to policies on income security, corrections, health, family and children, and housing, and will include an examination of the role of the social worker in formulating policy.

Studying the Arts

It means to study the world – to understand critical issues such as the environment, politics, race, class, poverty, gender and inequality. The world is your classroom, and what you learn matters. To study Arts is to think and feel, to know and change, to understand and take action.

Explore arts