Vandals dash BV student's hopes for homeless project

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Vandals have repeatedly laid waste to the cardboard boxes created by Buena Vista University student Karissa Stotts, who had pledged to sleep in a box outdoors and live on donated food and blankets to draw attention to the plight of the homeless.

The attacks have forced her to rethink the effort she had hoped to continue until well after the snow falls.

"It's pretty disappointing. When I saw this happen all over again this week, it kind of broke my heart," Stotts said.

Her box was destroyed and smeared with pudding on the first day of the project. About a week later, a second box she was living in was also kicked to pieces, with what little goods she had strewn across the grass.

The student newspaper reports that someone left a "mud sandwich" to feed the homeless in one of the incidents.

The issue has stirred comment both positive and negative on campus.

In one letter to the student newspaper, several student critics said: "We have nothing against fundraising for the poor; in fact, we encourage it. However, we will not support someone who attends a $26,000-a-year university and is only trying to make herself a martyr."

Rita McKenzie, an assistant professor of counseling and educational psychology, is among those encouraging Stotts' efforts. Of the vandals, she wrote, "It is certainly safer to ridicule another's caring and to deny that such a plight exists, rather than to do something to try to help."

"The campus is not being very responsive to the message I have been trying to present," Stotts admitted, "But while some have been against this, other students have donated food, clothing and money."

Stotts said she is reluctantly reaching the conclusion that it might not be good to continue spending nights in the box. She is heading back to her dorm room, but she said she plans to leave the second destroyed box on the campus lawn.

"It's a pretty good symbol for the harassment and abuse that the real homeless people in our society have to face constantly. She placed a sign nearby with a picture of "Steve," a homeless man who murdered. "He and his box were beaten to death," it said. She plans to place a new sign every few days.

Stotts, who was raised with a background of volunteering with the homeless, plans to continue to speak out and raise funds for the cause in Iowa.

She is urging her fellow students to think about the issue as they go home for Thanksgiving, and to come back with unneeded coats and clothing they might like to donate. Cash donations can be dropped off at the Siebens Forum desk, and clothing donations can be dropped off at the south entry of Swope residential hall.

For the moment, the young campaigner will give up 30-degree nights and a growling stomach for the more typical life of a college freshman, and she suspects her grades may improve.

"I really debated about getting another box and going back outside, but I was afraid that the focus of this was getting to be about me instead of about the homeless," she said.

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