What is community? Professor Olivia Sullivan offers a definition

Social Work Professor Olivia Sullivan is one of the instructors involved in OC's new Applied Bachelor of Arts: Community Research and Evaluation. Here, she provides insight into a definition of community that enables acts of solidarity and connection.

Headshot of Olivia Sullivan

If we asked any group of people, “What does ‘community’ mean to you?” we would receive many answers. For some, their community is the city in which they live. For others, it is their close network of friends, relatives or chosen family. Some view community as the people with whom they share values, beliefs or a particular lifestyle. In Social Work, we value all definitions of community, honouring whatever this means to the person we work alongside. A person’s community can bolster them in times of struggle, provide emotional or practical support, and help a person or family know that they are not alone. A community can also work together to advocate for change on an individual or structural scale, combining passion, personal experiences and research to illustrate why such change is necessary.

A major drive in Social Work is to benefit and even transform communities; the BC Association of Social Workers' Code of Ethics states that a Social Worker “shall advocate change in the best interest of the client, and for the overall benefit of society” (BCASW, 2003). To create change, we must be allies with community members, prioritizing their needs and goals, and leveraging our power for their benefit.

The opioid crisis is an example of how marginalized voices within a community are often ignored. Instead of colluding with the dominant discourse that drug use is a criminal issue or moral failing, allies can bring together the lived experiences of people impacted by opioid addiction and the research indicating best practices to address this issue. It is also vital that we work to change the narrative of the social issue, which often perpetuates negative stigma, opting for more accurate language such as Reynolds’ assertion that opioid overdoses are actually “political deaths.” Our society’s view of the community of people impacted by opioid dependence could change significantly as a result.

There are diverse perspectives on what defines a community, just as there are diverse roles for Social Workers within them. The collective well-being of any community can bolster and support the well-being of each individual through acts of solidarity and connection.

Find out more

Learn more about the Applied Bachelor of Arts at the online information session on Feb. 16.  And meet ABA faculty members like Olivia Sullivan, Stephanie Griffiths and Priscillia Lefebvre during an online panel discussion Feb. 23.  Register for these sessions here. 

Works cited

Baylis, M., Chainey, N., & Pozega, M. (Hosts). (2019, April 3). Vikki Reynolds: Resisting the neutral and medicalised language of psychology. [Audio podcast episode]. In Chronically Chilled on 3CR. http://www.3cr.org.au/chronicallychilled/episode-201904031800/vikki-reynolds-resisting-neutral-and-medicalised-language

BC Association of Social Workers. (2003). BCASW Code of Ethics. https://www.bcasw.org/about-bcasw/casw-code-of-ethics/

Reynolds, V. (2013). “Leaning in” as imperfect allies in community work. Narrative and Conflict: Explorations in theory and practice, 1(1), 53-75.

Published By Public Affairs on February 8, 2021


Applied Bachelor of Arts: Community Research and Evaluation

Study the social sciences and liberal arts through applied learning, including a field experience and a significant capstone research project. This innovative program prepares graduates to contribute solutions to regional issues and to access further studies in the Master of Social Work at UBC Okanagan.

Explore the degree