In a video posted to YouTube last week, Brock University student Travis Lewis jumps into a dumpster wearing rubber gloves and a face mask. He sorts its contents, tossing cardboard and paper into one recycling bin and plastics into another. Then the camera pans over the bins. Both are full to the brim with cans, water bottles, yogurt containers and more. “You tell me,” Lewis says, looking back at the camera. “Is there an issue?”
The second-year political science student and residence don (known at some schools as residence assistants) says he made the video to promote easier access to recycling for students, something he’s been pushing Brock administrators to move quicker on.
Now Lewis is on “disciplinary probation,” meaning he could be kicked out of residence, and lose his job, if he steps out of line again. He says the probation is punishment for making the video, and while Brock says that’s not the reason, the school won’t say what is.
Lewis says that, in a meeting last week, two angry residence managers told him the video amounted to “insubordination.”
Jamie Fleming, Director of the Department of Residences, wasn’t present at the meeting, but was adamant Tuesday that Lewis’ probation had nothing to do with the video. Rather, it was related to “performance issues.”
But compare that to what he said earlier this week: “We want our residence dons to be role models and to lead by example,” he told the St. Catharines Standard. “Obviously, we didn’t think it was appropriate for Travis to climb into a garbage dumpster.”
The video has been widely shared on social media and viewed more than 18,000 times.
Since the fall, Lewis has been pursuing improved access to recycling at his residence, The Village, which is home to about 900 students in townhouses along 12 streets, or, as Brock calls them, “courts.” There are three garbage disposal areas and one location for recycling. Lewis believed that, with some of the houses up to 200 metres from the recycling depot, students were dumping recyclables into the garbage out of convenience. He approached residence managers with this concern and they agreed he could try something new.
At least twice a week, he’d wheel his court’s new recycling bin down the street to the depot. The system worked well, he says. In January, the school ordered new recycling bins for the rest of the courts. But weeks passed and the bins sat idle, despite Lewis following up with the department. That’s why he decided to film the video.
Fleming’s account is different. He says a pilot program involving a few dons with bins in their courts had mixed results, which caused the delay in rolling out the bins residence-wide. Brock has had recycling in residences for many years, he added, and is always looking to improve. That said, he concedes, “we don’t move as quickly as sometimes we would like or as students would like on things they’re passionate about.”
Rhiannon Russell, an intern at Maisonneuve, studied journalism at Ryerson University.