Lisa McClelland has been called a white racist, a fat, white neo-Nazi, KKK girl and a host of obscenity-laced insults since she decided to start a Caucasian Club at her California high school.
A gang of girls threatened to beat her up. Flyers have appeared on campus urging students to boycott her club. A teacher told her in front of the class that he’d rather see her “drugged out and pregnant” than on the news talking about her club.
But Lisa, a 15-year-old freshman at Freedom High School in Oakley, Calif., refuses to give up. Even though she acknowledged that the threats make her nervous, she’s spending this week’s school break drafting a constitution for the proposed club.
“It’s hard, but I’m dealing with it. I’m going to stick it out,” said Lisa in a telephone interview from her home in Contra Costa County, about 50 miles east of San Francisco
Lisa touched off a school and media uproar last month when she began gathering signatures to start a Caucasian Club on campus. The club, which would be open to students of all ethnic backgrounds, would work to promote diversity and help students learn about their heritage, not advance racism, she said.
While many students have supported the idea by signing her petition and offering to join the club, others have compared it to the Ku Klux Klan and accused her of endorsing white supremacy. Lisa, whose ethnicity includes Dutch, German, Italian, American Indian and Latino, acknowledged that the “backlash” has been worse than she expected.
The stream of threats has infuriated her mother, Debi Neely, who has warned school officials that she’ll take legal action if anyone harms her daughter. So far, she said, Principal Eric Volta has dealt promptly with those menacing Lisa.
“I’ve told the principal, and he said that if anything happens to call him immediately,” said Mrs. Neely. “He’s called in a couple of students to talk to them. He took care of it, even though I know he’s not thrilled about the whole club thing.”
Boys have called her names, but it’s the girls who really worry Lisa’s mother. “Girls will walk by and tell her, ‘We’re going to jump [you] after school,’” Mrs. Neely said.
Lisa’s family and friends are sticking close by before and after school, but once she enters the campus, there’s not much they can do, Mrs. Neely said.
“I just worry about her at school. I’ve told her to be careful and stay with her friends, but she said, ‘Mom, if I get jumped, it will be in the hall or during passing period. If it happens, it happens,’” she said.
Dan Smith, superintendent of the Liberty Union High School District, said the school was doing its best to keep Lisa safe.
“We’re concerned if any student doesn’t feel comfortable on one of our campuses,” Mr. Smith said. “We’ll certainly do everything we can to help her.”
As for the “drugged out and pregnant” remark, Mr. Smith said that he hadn’t heard that, but that he considered it “very significant” and that such a comment would not be considered “professional or acceptable.”
Lisa said the teacher who made the comment intended it as a joke. More disturbing to her were the anti-Caucasian Club flyers, which called the proposed club racist. The buzz on campus was that they were instigated by another teacher, Lisa said.
Right now, however, she’s got several more pressing concerns. After she drafts a constitution, the club must find a faculty sponsor. So far, no teacher has agreed to accept the job.
She said she asked for copies of other club constitutions to use as guidelines, but when she went to pick them up from the office last week, they weren’t there. One teacher hinted to Lisa that there was another step in the process, but then wouldn’t tell her what it was.
“She’s almost being stonewalled,” Mrs. Neely said. “They’re not telling her she can’t do it, they’re just making it more difficult.”
Mr. Smith insisted that “every effort” was being made to help Lisa. After Lisa drafts a constitution and finds an adviser, her request goes before the student council and then the principal, who makes the final decision.
If they reject the Caucasian Club, Lisa can still appeal the decision to the superintendent and then the school board, Mr. Smith said.
Two weeks ago, Lou Calabro, president of the European-American Issues Forum in San Bruno, Calif., filed a discrimination complaint against Mr. Volta with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights. An investigator contacted Mr. Calabro and Lisa’s family last week.
Mr. Calabro, who has served as an unofficial adviser to Lisa since she contacted him through his Web site, accused Mr. Volta of “resisting the formation of the club.” Mr. Volta has said he’s still waiting for the process to take its course.
School officials worry that the club could become a haven for racism, although Lisa said she’s done her best to rebut that impression. She recently tried to prove it after receiving a letter from a woman who identified herself as a Ku Klux Klan leader in Pennsylvania.
“The woman said she was very proud of her, she’s doing a great thing for the white race, and that she can join the KKK when she’s 18,” Mrs. Neely said.
That’s an offer Lisa plans to refuse. “Lisa wrote a back a very polite letter saying, ‘Thank you, but in case you didn’t realize it, I’m part Latino, half of my friends are gay, and I don’t believe in your cause,’” Mrs. Neely said.