Johnson ’14: Litter in the ivory tower

Opinions Columnist
Sunday, November 20, 2011

Most Brown students probably missed the recent article in the Providence Journal about Edward Bishop ’54 P’86 P’91, a 79-year-old Brown graduate who resides on College Hill. In short, the article explained that Bishop spends his weekend mornings picking up the remnants of Brown students’ weekend nights.

Bishop strolls up and down the streets surrounding the University, collecting crushed cans of Narragansett Light, soiled plates from Josiah’s and who knows what else. He told the Journal that he “suspect(s) that all the kids at Brown had others pick up after them.”

Besides being an unfortunate quote for Brown and for its students, this article highlights everything that many people hate about academia and the ivory tower of the nation’s top universities. We are viewed as elitists who preach environmentalism and sustainability to the masses but cannot even make the effort of putting our beer cans into a recycling bin. Brown has frequently been called one of America’s most socially conscious universities, and our student body is certainly known for its environmentalism and focus on sustainability. But the sight of Wriston Quadrangle on Saturday mornings is enough to make visitors wonder if Brown students are familiar with the concept of a trash container.

Though a few beer cans in the bushes is certainly not enough to merit Al Gore’s attention, the thought of an elderly alum picking up our cans is not helpful to our image as a school.

And, try as we might, we cannot blame the administration. I have yet to see Dean of the College Katherine Bergeron dropping a Bud Light outside of Spats. And as far as I know, President Ruth Simmons always recycles her booze containers.

But in all seriousness, the administration has gone to great lengths to make non-littering easy. We have no one to blame but ourselves.

There is almost nothing more disgusting than a college student wearing a “Save the Whales” t-shirt as he drops his glass beer bottle on the street. No one likes a hypocrite.

Obviously, this problem is not exclusive to Brown. There are probably hypocritical environmental activists at every school in the country. But that does not mean that we should not try to change the way we are perceived. We should. And as I see it, Brown students have two options: Stop preaching environmentalism or stop littering.

But as we all know, Brown students will always be among the most vocal supporters of environmentalism. Our student body will always — and should always — be a part of this crusade. The fight against pollution and climate change is an important one. But now it is time to stop saying one thing while doing another.

Bishop told the Journal he thinks “the country is going to hell” and that “people don’t have much respect for the environment anymore.”

The sad thing about these statements is that Brown students claim to care so much about the environment. There are student groups devoted to the environment. There is an academic department devoted to the environment. But the fact remains that even with all of our knowledge and passion about the issues facing the environment, our campus looks like a wasteland on the weekends.

No amount of abstract preaching will physically remove the garbage from the quads. Discussing a tax on carbon dioxide emissions may be a riveting topic for a seminar, but we have an opportunity to make an immediate impact on the environment by picking up after ourselves.

The next time you finish your Keystone on Patriots Court, don’t forget about the recycling bins that are all around you. Don’t forget about the fact that whether you are an environmentalist or not, you represent a school that is known as a bastion of eco-activism. And for every can that Bishop has to pick up on Sunday morning, Brown looks less like a leading institution of higher learning and more like a group of hypocritical hipsters.

Garret Johnson ’14 is a biochemistry and molecular biology concentrator from Boxford, Mass., who closely follows the drinking and littering habits of the administration.

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