Dontavia Lewis on litterbugs, sagging, benches and bullies
Although she is not a professor, Stillman junior Dontavia Lewis felt compelled to stand behind her imaginary podium and lecture after a recent encounter with litterbugs. Perplexed by their apparent dearth of logic, she wondered, “Why would someone sitting next to a trashcan throw garbage on the ground—especially when, just a few years ago, students lobbied to get more trashcans on campus?”
Fortunately, the leadership skills Dontavia honed in SGA (Student Government Association), SIFE (Students in Free Enterprise) and Student Senate have helped her to formulate successful strategies for inspiring others to use common sense. She encourages students to not only ask for what they want, but to use what they get.
Dontavia, who is a Jean O’Connor Snyder Intern and SIFE president, recently attended a daylong retreat presented by the David Mathews Center for Civic Life at American Village in Montevallo, AL. Participants discussed their initiatives to create sustainable programs, and explored ways to better impact communities. One of Dontavia’s long-range plans is to develop an anti-bullying program for local schools. Although this project is still in the beginning stages, a brainstorming session during the retreat reaffirmed her commitment to being a vocal leader.
“Most people don’t like rules, but if you tell someone why you want them to do something, they are more likely to listen. Some people try to ignore the ‘no sagging’ rule on campus, for example. But when student leaders say, ‘Pull your pants up; that’s not attractive’ people listen to us. If you want something to change, it’s important to speak up,” says Dontavia.
“I was in Student Senate during my freshman year. We complained that there were no benches outside and not enough trash cans. I took two years off after the first semester of my sophomore year. When I returned, there were benches and more trashcans. I don’t know when they came. Sometimes change takes time. You may graduate and not even be here to benefit from the improvements you help to make happen. But sometimes you might benefit from improvements that student leaders lobbied for before you even arrived on campus.”
When Dontavia observed the students tossing their garbage on the ground near a trashcan, she was determined to help them change their lazy ways. To do so, she tried to “paint a picture” of how littering is unfair to campus janitors. “We’re grown men and women. We should throw our trash in the trashcans, not near them. The janitors should not have to take extra steps to pick up after us,” she informed the litterbugs. The mental picture apparently worked because the students quickly scooped up their trash and tossed it inside the trashcan.
Dontavia is currently an intern at 92.9/WTUG Radio. Although she hopes to eventually trade in her lectern for a seat behind CNN’s news desk, she will keep on lecturing because, whether the problem is bullies, benches, sagging pants or litterbugs, the solution usually begins with someone daring to speak up.
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