Community: Understanding and involvement towards a mutual benefit

Submitted by jenny.s on November 5, 2012 - 4:22pm


            Community means inter-dependency, communication and support between multiple individuals, groups, organizations, governments or nations. This could be as simple as holding the door open for someone as you leave the grocery store, or launching a national organization to address a systemic societal issue. The term "community" is so encompassing that there are hundreds of possible definitions that could be as vague and ambiguous as the feeling of ‘helping out’ or as hyper-specific as is needed on government grants for non-profit or specific project funding. The crux of the matter is that a community should involve everyone it claims to represent, and everyone therein should work together towards a common goal.

             Living in a university town allows for interesting interactions and experiences between the student population and its surrounding city. An underlying dichotomy exists between the school and the city. On the one hand, the students coming in are a boon to the city’s economy and community life. Many city services are only able to be offered to the large extent they currently are because the incoming students pay for these services through their tuitions; local residents can benefit from these extended services. Students also contribute their monies to local businesses, cultural and recreational facilities. However, at the same time, the city is wary of the student population and tends to assume an automatic negative attitude towards them as a whole because of disturbances to the greater community when the weekends roll around. Many students then feel unjustly accused and misrepresented when these negative perceptions are thrown upon them as a whole due to the actions of a certain percentage of the population. This causes them to regress into their student ‘bubbles’ and minimally engage with the communities that surround them. With this disengagement from the community, further problems and conflicts are perpetuated as the student sees the city as a temporary living space with no personal investment and thereby less inclined to respect the space and people within it.

              One of the easiest solutions for dealing with a transient student population and allowing for the development of a sense of community, and therefore respect, is engaging them through volunteer work. The opportunity to get involved and connected with the area that you live in, does incredible amounts of good not only for those who receive the volunteer services, but for those who give it. The sense of accomplishment and ownership over a completed volunteer project is immense and can act as a tether for one’s respect towards a community. Additionally, as is the case when we find a large concentration of young people in a small area, there are always many people who are passionate and extremely involved in their communities whether they consider their city, province, religion, social issue, political ideology or sexuality their ‘community’. These impassioned individuals act as ‘hubs’ to the various communities and allow youth to become more connected in their societies beyond the immediate environment outside their door towards the provincial, national or international community level. 

             I challenge all post-secondary institutions to put more emphasis on involving their students with the greater community in which they live. Young people have great potential and willingness to contribute to society, but at times are not taken seriously by those who possess the power to mobilize them positively for their community. In our society, we are incredibly lucky to have the freedom to get involved with our community in any way at all that we choose. Involvement with a community can be as small or as large an act as we want it to be. Community is something to be cherish, to be proud of, and to fight for fiercely.


How: What are your thoughts?

Hi Jenny,

Thanks so much for sharing. Having basically finished my undergraduate degree at the University of Waterloo- I certainly know of what you speak.

I think your idea of volunteering is great! It is a way for students to look outside themselves. But, how to we go about engaging students in volunteer work when the ideology/belief that so permeates our thinking is: it's all about YOU and YOUR agenda? Perhaps get professors on board to encourage students to engage with their community, rather than telling the students their course should consume all of their waking hours (as can often be the case!). Perhaps, like in highschool, implement a certain minimum number of community hours- certain programs already have this in place... but, it that were the case, would their hearts be sincere? Would they be doing it for the right reasons? Tricky, eh?

Do you have any other ideas of HOW we might encourage students to volunteer/see themselves as an active participant in their community?

Create the environment

Hi Rachel,

I think you raise some very interesting points regarding the actual application of involvement in the community for a transient student. I have almost completed my undergraduate degree as we speak and have definitely thought about the various tactics one can employ to get students more connected and engaged with society and the community that surrounds them. I have  participated in many volunteer or non-profit organizations over the past several years at the local, provincial, national and international level in different capacities and at different commitment levels, and I do agree that those people who give their time to these causes or organizations clearly see it as THEIR cause and THEIR agenda. However this is something that cannot be imposed or forced upon people or 'assigned' for marks in class. People naturally are turned off by this notion. The moment something is 'mandatory' and is not pursued out of a personal need to do so, it is very rare that the person will genuinely feel connected to a cause or organization beyond the scope of their mandated commitment.

I have been lucky as well to be able to travel to various university campuses in Canada and experience a small part of the local student and greater university culture and that is were I think that the most good, in terms of community, can be established. At some campuses, the values of the students or unveristy atmosphere allows for many opportunities to connect and communicate with each other while others strive for a more independent learning environment. There are pros and cons and different gradients of both these models, however, my point is that in a more active and engaged student environment, one is more likely to form a culture where connecting with the surrounding community is encouraged and a normal state of affairs. In such an environment, the university or student groups facilitate volunteer opportunities for the general student population through mass volunteering events, volunteer clubs or even volunteer centres. Hopefully, after 4 (or more!) years of being part of this environment (and hopefully participating in it when they learn of something they can connect to), students learn the skills and values that they can take to their own communities when they finish their formal educational training. It may sound like a lollipop and unicorn type of dreamland, but it definately is possible to create such an environment and have witnessed many students across Canada take matters to the next level when they move on after their formal education.

I like this "lollipop land"

Hi Jenny,

Thanks so much for your response. Wow! Sounds like you have had some really neat experiences! What have been some of your most valuable volunteering experiences locally?

I really like what you have said about university campuses creating a certain atmosphere that can enforce the value of volunteering and belonging to a community, beyond that of the academic institution. This holds such truth. I think this becomes trickier the larger the campus is- you need more people to be united and echo this voice/view!

Thanks for engaging in these neat questions, Jenny :)