Between Dec. 8 and Dec. 11, a handful of students at Buena Vista University woke up to racial slurs written on their dorm room doors.
One of the students, Buena Vista cheerleader Alyssa Parker, previously made headlines when she took a knee during the national anthem and later quit the team when they were mandated to stand, according to KTLA sister station WHO in Des Moines. After a long night of studying for finals on Sunday night, the criminal justice major and her roommate, Emerald Jones, were awakened in their room.
“I woke up to knocks on our door from a friend that we have, and he was just freaking out because when we opened the door, the N-word was written on our door,” Parker told WHO.
The racial scrawl was the latest in a string of incidents. In one, the word "illegal" was written on a Latino student's door, and "KKK" and a swastika drawn on a white student's door. All incidents happened in the Pierce and White residence halls, but the two women believe their door was targeted because of Parker's protest.
“We have a few black women on our floor, and it’s not like it was on all of their doors," Jones said. "It was just on ours.”
“I think that someone is just very upset with how loud we’ve been with our protests,” Parker said.
Nineteen-year-old Ryan Bills of Las Vegas, Nevada, was arrested in connection with the earlier cases of vandalism, but Parker says Storm Lake Police do not believe he is responsible for the graffiti on their door.
Meanwhile, BVU President Joshua Merchant came with a strong response.
"Let me be clear, I am repulsed by this behavior," he said in a statement to the college. "I am sad and angry that these deplorable acts were carried out by a few individuals. Hate is an open attack on tolerance and acceptance. I am asking you to not tolerate hate, instead speak up…Victims of hate crimes often feel terribly alone and afraid. They have been attacked simply for who they are. Your silence amplifies their isolation; it also condones the act of hate. Victims need a strong message that they are valued."
He told students they should all complete at least one act of kindness before leaving for Christmas break.
The school is offering a $500 reward for information on who is responsible, and the two women agree the school is taking the issue seriously.
“The Storm Lake Police have been really helpful; they were there since 8 a.m. yesterday and they didn’t leave until 8 p.m. I think that everyone is taking it very seriously and so I’m really happy about that,” said Parker, who is also president of the Black Student Union.
However, Parker and Jones agree that whoever committed the act was allowed to feel comfortable enough on campus to do so.
“I have heard the words so many times. It sucks when you hear it no matter the fact, but for someone to directly call you and the person you care about it? Words can’t even explain," Jones said. "I don’t even know how to explain it. It makes you feel as if you are lesser than the people around you, like you’re the lesser [race], like you’re just this...like the word says.”
The two have been allowed to return home to Des Moines and take their finals there. The college held a mandatory meeting for everyone in the two residence halls, had counselors on hand for affected students, and will have an increased security presence in halls.
The two women say they’ll return for the spring semester but have not made a decision if they will return to BVU for their junior year.