2008 Youth Scholar - Doris Le, Vallejo High School, Vallejo, CA
"By her own initiative, Doris has advocated for the implementation and preservation of civil liberties through her work on the critical issues of educational equity and access, military recruitment, economic justice and LGBT rights, among other things. Activism, peer education, and community organizing are her natural responses to injustice in her own life and the lives of others."
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Doris Le has been a dedicated civil liberties activist throughout her high school career in Vallejo, CA. She has been a key leader of her high school ACLU Club for all four years: organizing presentations and workshops on youth rights, educational equality, military recruitment and many other civil liberties topics. Armed with an awareness of new educational equity laws from the Williams case (co-filed by the ACLU in 2000), Doris recently led students in waging a campaign for clean, safe and accessible bathrooms, a basic necessity that had been lacking in her school for years. Under Doris' leadership, the ACLU Club collected over 800 student signatures to support the bathroom campaign and galvanized 20 students to attend bi-monthly meetings with the school board to hold the school accountable to California law. Despite facing criticism from students and administrators, Doris and her fellow club members maintain that students deserve healthy and accessible facilities, which are vital to educational access and a humane learning environment.
Doris' Scholarship Essay
Clogged toilets, missing stall doors, urine on the floor, invisible toilet paper, and non-existent soap-these are a few of the problems that plague the restrooms at my high school. The school and school district had turned a blind eye to the hygienically and legally justified demands of students to fix these problems for years. The ACLU Club and I were not going to let them get away with excuses and false promises to rectify the problem anymore. I filed a Williams Complaint against the school for having unclean, unsafe and unavailable bathrooms. I also created a petition demanding that the Vallejo City Unified School District hire enough custodians to keep the bathrooms in compliance with the law. The school and school district were not happy to hear such an uproar about a situation they thought they had under control. They also did not appreciate the sudden probing questions from the press about mismanagement and incompetence.
It has been three months of researching the law, gathering statistics of restroom inadequacy, and constant pressure on the school board to hire more custodians. I have been at every school board meeting, asserting student demands and state regulations. I have filed complaints with the state school board in hopes of getting the problem fixed.
I am seeing an improvement in the conditions of the restrooms. A new custodian has been hired to nothing but clean and restock the restrooms. The demands I set forth in the Williams Complaint and the petition have not been fully achieved yet, but I know I have made an important accomplishment. I lighted a fire under the seats of school officials who did not believe unlocked, clean, stocked and working restrooms should be high on the list of student rights. I pressured them to act in three months what they would have taken years to do. But best of all, I moved my fellow students to act. This campaign for clean and available restrooms has made students at Vallejo High feel they can convert their feelings into action and their actions into results. It felt good knowing that we were getting closer and closer to our goal but it felt better seeing the ACLU members excited at seeing results.
I joined the ACLU club at Vallejo High School (the first ACLU club established on a high school campus in the nation) in the 9th grade. I did not know what the ACLU stood for but I heard the club empowered people to make change. And I knew there were and would be things I wanted to change.
After joining the club and attending ACLUNC Friedman Education Youth Activist Committee meetings, I learned what civil liberties were and why they were important, I have remained very active in the YAC for the last two years, participating in bimonthly meetings, activist retreats, the annual summer exploration trip, and the annual Youth Rights Conference.
Using knowledge I have gained from outside resources and from YAC meetings, I have led our campus ACLU club through weekly workshops on civil rights and social justice issues, such topics as "Your Rights with the Police" and "Education Inequity." Most recently, along with our campaign for clean and safe bathrooms, we have launched a "counter-recruitment" campaign. I am planning presentations by veterans of the Iraq War as well as conscientious objectors in order to give students a view of the military other than that offered by military recruiters who come to campus and action-packed commercials on TV.
I have been the Gay-Straight Alliance president for three years. I lead the club through weekly meetings on topics ranging from the history of the queer community to current developments in gay rights. Our meetings provide a safe and supportive environment for students to discuss issues of discrimination. Our field trips provide educational and supportive resources.
This year has been particularly difficult for me. The school and the school district did not appreciate the legal complaints and the petition and the continual pressure we put on them for positive results. But I stuck by my campaign because students deserve clean, working, accessible restrooms; it's the human thing and the legal thing.
I know I will continue with activist work in the future because, similar to my actions this year, I will not be able to stand by when I feel injustices are being committed.