New club seeks to find middle ground

The Gray Area Club’s founding and how four students are working to create a safe space for discussions.

Senior Owen Haywood helps lead a discussion about "which cereal is best?" Topics at The Gray Area vary from light-hearted topics like cereal preference to serious topics such as state laws and the legalization of marijuana.
Senior Owen Haywood helps lead a discussion about “which cereal is best?” Topics at The Gray Area vary from light-hearted topics like cereal preference to serious topics such as state laws and the legalization of marijuana. (Natalie Isberg)

Every other Thursday in room 131 at 8 a.m. the Gray Area gathers to discuss an intriguing topic. The new club, founded at the start of the school year, aims to promote healthy debate among students. The four founders are seniors Jack Distenfield, John Graham, Owen Haywood, and Tavish Sharma. 

Everyone’s voice is welcome in the Gray Area because it is not only a place for one singular idea or belief. Rather, the club is a place for multiple beliefs to be shared and discussed. 

When the club first started, the founders wanted to start easy before diving into more serious and political topics.

“We started from more trivial topics, like country music vs rap music, something like that, and we built it out,” Graham mentioned.

“We kind of wanted to get people used to the format and get people kind of comfortable talking with each other,” Haywood agreed.

Recently, the club held a discussion about the recent conflict between Ukraine and Russia. 

“The whole thing kind of divulged into, ‘What  do you think America’s role should be?’  And everyone in the club was talking about whether they believe we should be the international police force or, you know, be more isolationist,” Graham continued. “I think there’s kind of a healthy split between the two.” 

The idea for founding the club started during the summer when the four co-founders would meet for coffee in the morning and discuss politics or current events.

He and the others were tired of hearing extreme sides, but not being able to hear the middle area: the ‘gray area’ of the conversation.

“The gray area is kind of like the area between the extremes of either side, coming to the middle and discussing it,”  Graham said. 

Another reason for the club’s founding was the expansion of new ideas.

“[Most of the time,] you’re talking to people that kind of just feeds into your similar beliefs,” Haywood said. “And so we wanted to create an opportunity for people to kind of talk outside of that limited bubble.”  

Disagreements do happen during the club’s discussions,as it is a natural part of human nature to formulate one’s own ideas and opinions, but the club provides a safe environment for healthy, productive debate. .

“We bring some sources to look at and kind of just come to consensus and try to have some disagreements and then try and work it out from there and see how it goes,” Graham said.

Anyone is welcome to share their ideas on the topic, provided that idea is factual to some degree. This is why, before the club starts, a brief background summary is provided or written on the board so those who have a brief understanding of the weekly topic can learn more. Other than that, the club time is spent wherever the discussion leads.

“There’s not much structure to it,” Graham said.  

The Gray Area selected two administrators, Ms. Sarah Greenswag and Mrs. Kristen Hawver. Both co-teach American Studies, a cross-curricular course that focuses on reading, writing, and immersive class discussions about current and past events in American history.

“They felt like a very natural choice,” Haywood said. “They were comfortable giving their own opinions, but also [playing] devil’s advocate. And they’re also just willing to kind of let us do our own thing.”

Interaction is a key component of the Gray Area, and Mrs. Greenswag, and Mrs. Hawver are always open to debate, be it political or simply a fun, whimsical discussion.

“We try so hard in our class to represent multiple points of view and just to model how to have productive disagreement, and have people who have different viewpoints still be able to hear each other,” Ms. Greenswag said. 

“Last year during the pandemic, John Graham would come to my room,” Greenswag said. “He had a period off and we would have all kinds of conversations about tough topics that were happening in the world. And it kept getting brought up that like, man, this is so nice, how we’re just having a conversation and talking about different points of view.”.

Through the club’s use of sources, Greenswag and Hawver hope to combat the use of fake news and emphasize the idea to do research beforehand and not just lean on social media.

At the Gray Area, students have the opportunity to share their thoughts and opinions on a topic in a safe and open-minded environment while having in-depth conversations –  and enjoying a complimentary donut.

The topics vary, and so do the points of view, but make no mistake, the Gray Area welcomes every perspective. It was founded to share ideas that usually spark controversy, and is a safe space at Libertyville High School.