Reach Out Initiative Promotes Student Well-Being

Thanks to the Gary Slaight family’s continuing support of an initiative called Reach Out, there has been increased awareness and focus on issues related to mental health and well-being, substance abuse, and violence prevention specifically as they relate to the performing artists’ experience. Under my leadership as director the of Berklee’s Health & Wellness programs, the initiative has been helping people for the past five years.

Reach Out sponsors a variety of programs, events, and services. A visiting artist series has become the signature annual event. Since 2013, the initiative has made it possible for us to invite professional musicians to come and speak with Berklee students about a challenge they’ve experienced related to their personal well-being, whether that was dealing with depression, anxiety, substance use disorder, or body image and self-esteem issues.  Through sharing their narratives, the artists are able to normalize for students what the students may be experiencing, and provide inspiration and practical advice for successfully addressing these issues personally and professionally. 

Additionally, each of these visiting artists has recorded short educational videos during their visit, which are now being used as part of the curriculum of the new LENS course, a first semester seminar program taken by entering students. Guest artists have included India Arie, Kelly Price, Big Freedia, Rocco Prestia, Dave Ellefson, and Berklee alumnus Ray Greene. 

One of the most significant ways the initiative has had direct student impact is through the student group Student Allies in Anti-Violence Education (Berklee SAAVE).  Established in 2015, it is a response to the Obama administration’s campaign “It’s On Us,” a call to action to address sexual assault and relationship violence on college campuses. The student group meets biweekly to discuss how they can be agents of change at Berklee, in the music industry, and in society at large.  The group developed a public service announcement about sexual and gender-based violence that is now viewed by all entering students during orientation in an effort to create a safe and inclusive community at Berklee.

Reach Out also sponsors programs intended to help students connect, de-compress, and encourage self-care in their day-to-day lives. One of those programs features “nap pods” in co-sponsorship with the Student Activities Center. Six nap pods were installed in the commuter lounge at 150 Massachusetts Avenue to provide a quiet space for students to relax. The student response was overwhelmingly positive. Many expressed that having a space to nap showed that the school cared about their well-being during a stressful time of the year. 

The contributions to Reach Out by the Slaight family and other donors have facilitated the development of staff positions specifically designed to help students struggling with their overall well-being or mental health. The Reach Out initiative will help these students to move forward in their Berklee and professional careers.