Wareham High grad to support diversity, inclusion at Berklee College of Music
Natara Gray, a proud Viking alumna of Wareham High School, is now the first Assistant Dean of Admissions, Diversity, and Inclusion Recruitment at the Berklee College of Music in Boston.
She is the first person to fill this role, and will be focused on improving the recruitment and retention of Black and African American students at the college.
“I’m really, really excited to embark on this journey,” Gray said. She’s been working in higher education with a focus on diversity and equity for more than 12 years, and has worked at Harvard University, the Eastern Nazarene College, and Babson College.
Gray explained diversity and inclusion simply: “Everyone who deserves to be in the room is, and everyone feels like they should be there and has the opportunity and access to be there.”
While she’s held similar positions in the past, she said that doing this work at Berklee is particularly important to her.
“Music is something I’ve loved since I was a little girl,” Gray said. She started singing when she was 3 years old, and acting at age 9.
Gray said that when she was considering college herself, she was a bit of a homebody and didn’t feel that the sky was the limit. She studied at Bridgewater State for a few years before leaving school to pursue a music career.
Several years later, while working in the private sector, Gray said that she started to think about her long-term goals and what work she could be proud of.
She reapplied to Bridgewater as a student, and eventually landed a job at the school’s Center of Multicultural Affairs.
“That is really where I found my path, and where my passion lies for wanting to serve underrepresented and underserved communities,” Gray said.
Working in education, Gray said, led her to reconsider her own experience. Her support systems, she said, were based on those who had already been given the opportunity to access institutions like higher education. She said she realized that she wanted to reach out to and support students who don’t have that access.
At Harvard, she started to work in admissions as well.
“Being able to really be a part of the beginning process and be at the table to help break down barriers for students in the very beginning… and then also having the background of knowing how to support them once they got there… just felt like a natural fit for me,” Gray said.
At Berklee, Gray is working to build connections between the school and the community.
Part of her work is reaching out to students at community colleges who might not have felt they were ready to apply initially, or didn’t feel a school like Berklee could be right for them.
She’s also working with middle and high schools to reach communities of color at younger ages to teach them that music is a real career option. Gray said that the music world is much larger than many people know — there are many careers beyond being in a famous band or working as a producer, for instance.
Another place to reach young musicians, Gray said, is in churches.
“A lot of the underrepresented and underserved populations who have learned about music have learned it by going to church,” Gray said.
Gray’s also working on building support systems for students of color within the college but outside designated diversity offices — working with financial aid, career services, and faculty. She said it’s important to make sure that people throughout the college are committed to supporting diversity and inclusion.
Gray said that prospective college students are considering a number of weighty issues, like whether the investment of pursuing higher education will end up benefiting them financially, or whether such a choice would be good for their mental health. The pandemic has only served to complicate those questions, as some are less willing to go far from home or have seen their family’s finances change.
Gray said that students are independent, and are better-informed than their predecessors.
She said that those considering college should know that it is a personal choice — the students, after all, will be the ones spending years at the college they choose. She advised students to do their research, and start that work early.
“I encourage them to allow the sky to be their limit,” Gray said, especially if “you have dreams and aspirations of going somewhere that has meaning to you, that you see yourself in.”
She said that students shouldn’t tell themselves no.
“If you try, and you put out for your first school and get a “no,” that’s not a no forever,” Gray said. “That might be a no for right now.”
From there, she said, students could attend another college, community college, or take a gap year.
Gray emphasized that it’s important for students to be true to themselves.
“We’re often so worried about everybody else, and so concerned about what everybody else is going to think or their plans for us,” Gray said. That pressure, she noted, is especially intense for students who are marginalized.
“The more... marginalized or oppressed you are, the more you feel like you need to be successful so you can support those around you,” Gray said. “And I think there’s something to be said about being brave, and doing what feels good for you in the long-term. Because at the end all, when you’re happy and you’re doing what makes you happy, you will provide. You will give that success, that happiness and joy, to those who love you and are around you.”
She also had some advice for Wareham students.
“I grew up in Wareham, and I loved it,” she said. But as a student, she said that she thought that being from a small town meant she had to have small-town goals.
She said that kids in small towns can dream big and achieve those goals, and said it’s important to come back to their community, give back, and be proud of where they’re from. She’s spoken at Wareham High several times.
“Remember who you are and where you came from and be proud of that,” Gray said. “The sky is always the limit.”
Gray noted that there is a lot of talent in Wareham and across southeast Massachusetts, and said she’d love to see students from Wareham at Berklee.