2003-09-17 21:25:59 UTC
Caucasian Club meets resistance
By Danielle Samaniego
CONTRA COSTA TIMES
OAKLEY - Lisa McClelland insists that she is not a racist.
The 15-year-old freshman at Freedom High School says her campaign to
start a Caucasian Club on campus is an effort to bolster diversity,
not promote bigotry.
"It's not racist because we're not excluding anyone, and we're just
trying to solve the issues of racial disparity," says Lisa, whose
ethnic background is American Indian, Latino, Dutch, German, Italian
Lisa says she and many of her friends feel slighted by other school
clubs that cater to specific cultures and races, such as the Black
Student Union and the Asian Club.
The Caucasian Club would be open to everyone of all ethnic
backgrounds, she says. She envisions activities such as fund-raisers
and field trips to places that emphasize history, such as museums.
Since launching her campaign three weeks ago, Lisa says she has gotten
245 signatures from students, adults and others on and off campus who
support the formation of the club. She intends to get hundreds more
before submitting the petition to Freedom High principal Eric Volta
Others are uneasy about the proposal. It comes in the aftermath of
racial tension at Freedom High and elsewhere within the Liberty Union
High School District.
Freedom High teacher Jesse Gossett, who is African-American, found a
noose made out of a shoelace hanging on the doorknob of his classroom
in 2001. Last year, a swastika and anti-minority fliers were found in
the boys' restroom.
Tension mounted again in May 2002 when a roped noose was discovered
hanging from a redwood tree in the southern portion of the Liberty
High School campus quad in Brentwood. The incident led to a
400-student protest against the administration for not finding the
culprit (a male student later confessed to the act), and the district
faced ire from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored
People, which asked for the tree to be removed.
Darnell Turner, first vice president of the East County chapter of the
NAACP, said he believes the Caucasian Club will create racial
"It will not allow us to heal that divide that we've tried to overcome
in the past couple of years," said Turner, who spoke out during the
2002 Liberty High incidents. "If her motivation is to bring harmony,
as she alleges, this is not the way to go."
The grass-roots effort has come primarily in the form of sheets of
binder paper passed around in class with the written topper
"Caucasian/White Club Petition." She also has gone door-to-door in the
community to gather signatures.
Freedom freshman Tyleisha Crooks, 14, who is African-American, signed
"It'd be tight because they can learn more about their history,"
Lisa's neighbor Elliott Perez, a 14-year-old Freedom sophomore who is
Latino and white, signed as well.
"I think it's fair for white people to have their own club because
every other race has their own club," Elliott said.
Gossett says he does not have issues with the concept of a Caucasian
Club as long as it is positive.
"If it's going to be helpful then I don't have a problem with it," he
said. "I'm kind of a positive person, and I tend to look on the
positive side of things. I think that probably some groups want to
feel a part of the whole community and, in that way, they're
expressing themselves in a positive way."
The NAACP's Turner said the club's concept sounded similar to former
Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke's 1989 election campaign when he
claimed his National Association of the Advancement of White People
was also about harmony. Turner added that organizations such as his
and other ethnic clubs have never been associated historically with
"It was a way to identify the members of that group and unify," he
said. "When we use the word 'white' or 'Caucasian' or whatever, it has
always been associated with racial bigotry. Using that term opens up
old wounds, and we don't need to go there."
The school board decided not to remove the tree but rather
re-establish the Liberty High quad as a unity plaza to promote respect
and multiculturalism. A garden, an information kiosk and a showcase
for student artwork are planned. The plaza is expected to cost from
$50,000 to $60,000 and open by spring.
"We've worked very hard over the last year to have a real positive
feeling about this school, and I don't know if a club of this name
would upset that," Volta, the principal. "We have clubs that support
the same thing," he said, referring to the Power of Unity club on
The Power of Unity is an umbrella organization for the cultural clubs
at Freedom and is similar in its concept to Liberty's unity plaza, he
Freedom High activities director Dana Johnston said students
interested in forming a club would need to first find an adviser, then
create a constitution, which would have to be approved by the school's
club council members, the Associated Student Body and Johnston
herself. She refused to comment further.
Ultimately, it is Volta who will give the final approval. Aware of
this, Lisa says if her club is rejected, she plans to protest or take
legal action if necessary.
Lisa's friend Kristine Maguire, 14, who signed the petition, says she
understands the club's name could immediately put some people off but
that attitudes might be swayed if they grasped its overall purpose.
"If they really knew what the club was about, they wouldn't say it was
racist," she said. "You've got to get to know the club before you
Freedom High's student population is composed of about 63 percent
whites, 26 percent Latinos and 4 percent African-Americans, along with
small percentages of Filipinos, American Indians and Pacific
Until two years ago, when Lisa moved to Oakley, the teenager found
herself immersed in diversity while growing up in Richmond and later
Martinez. Her distinct style is derivative of who she is, from her
bleach-splashed hair to the red-rimmed glasses she sports without
lenses. On a recent afternoon, she spoke with conviction even as she
fidgeted with a paper, inked stars and the letters "O-z-z-y" marked
across her left hand.
Her mother, Debbi Neely, says she always has been open-minded toward
others and taught her children to do the same.
"I personally think it all comes from the home," Neely says of
bigotry. "You learn it from your past, your families. Mostly kids her
age today are like, 'Why? Why is this still an issue?'"
Reach Danielle Samaniego at 925-779-7189 or ***@cctimes.com.