Middle Ground Club talks election season family stress, mental health

Sophia Krugler and Amy Yu

Shortly after the 2020 US election night, Palo Alto High School’s Middle Ground club provided a space for students to process their emotional well-being at lunch Wednesday. The club has been hosting discussions about controversial issues with the aim to create a mutual understanding of others’ opinions since the 2019-2020 school year, according to senior and club member Aleksandra Lyubarskaja. However, with the polarization of the current political climate, the club sought to reach out to the community and provide a safe platform for students to express their views, Lyubarskaja said. “We understand that because there are so many liberals in Palo Alto, it can be difficult for conservatives to find a place to voice their opinions or discuss topics without feeling like they’re being attacked or disrespected,” Lyubarskaja said. “We think it’s been a very difficult and polarizing election for both sides of the political spectrum… everyone can relate to that experience, and maybe the event would stimulate interest in talking to people with other perspectives.” Graphic: Amy Yu

Following a polarizing US election season, Palo Alto High School’s Middle Ground Club held a public discussion on prioritizing mental health and how students cope with political conflicts between family members during lunch Wednesday over Zoom with members of the Paly Wellness Team in attendance. 

The club is a student organization that aims to bring people with different perspectives together through weekly discussions, often surrounding controversial topics including abortion and healthcare, according to co-president and senior Giulia Santos.

According to senior and club member Aleksandra Lyubarskaja, having a place to have respectful and productive discussions about political events and policies has helped her understand where others are coming from.

“I think it’s really helpful as an individual when we live in such a partisan and polarized climate,” Lyubarskaja said. “It’s very easy to get provoked by opinions or statements that you disagree with if you don’t understand them. We’re going to have to work together to reach some consensus on a lot of issues, and we can’t do that without understanding why people feel the way they do.”

Santos said Student Activities Director Greer Stone contacted her and suggested the club allow non-club members to join this week’s discussion about the election. Club leaders decided to open the event to other students in hopes of recruiting new members and potentially diversifying the views represented in the club, but unfortunately saw no new students in attendance, according to Santos. 

“All the members of the club have very similar ideas,” Santos said. “But we feel like it’s more of a spectrum. So even though we’re usually more liberal in the club, we still have some misalignments here and there, and it’s really fun to go into those details.”

Santos said those in attendance talked about how students can discuss their opinions with family members who may have opposing beliefs.

“We were talking about the dynamics in our houses and how we treat people during our family Thanksgiving dinner,” Santos said. “How can we have good conversations with those people and our new generation that is coming with different values? How can we have good conversations with older people in family settings?”

Towards the end of the discussion, Wellness Outreach Workers Whitney Aquino and Elizabeth Spector offered tips on how to deal with stress caused by the election and schoolwork, according to Santos. 

“The goal was opening a safe space for people to both share how they’re feeling emotionally but also politically,” Santos said. “But it’s also a really stressful time, so it was great to have Wellness [members] there with us.”

Lyubarskaja said that reminders about being cognizant of mental health and the factors that can influence our emotional state have been beneficial. 

“Since we’re exposed to our phones, news and politics all the time, it’s really helpful to remind ourselves that we forget how much it can affect our mood and our mental health,” Lyubarskaja said. “Having Wellness people there just reminded us that it is important to take a break or take a step back and evaluate how spending so much time on social media and following the polls has affected our mental health. It’s a real concern that we need to address.” 

The Middle Ground Club meets during lunch every Thursday. To learn more, follow @mid.ground on Instagram.