Pepperdine Communication Professor Jaz Gray poses for a photo. Gray previously worked in the entertainment industry but said her faith led to go back to school to become a teacher. Photo courtesy of Jaz Gray
Communication Professor Jasmine “Jaz” Gray became a new tenure-track faculty member at Pepperdine in fall 2021. Gray said she inspires her students through the power of storytelling while also using faith to make her classroom a safe space for discussion.
Gray said she gained teaching experience while earning her doctorate at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in Communication in summer 2021 and began her career as a professor in August. Gray incorporates experiences from her career in production, the entertainment industry and from her personal life in the classroom.
“I always knew that story and storytelling was a way to transform my situation, as I have a rare craniofacial disability, so from the ages of 10 years old until now, I had nearly 50 surgeries,” Gray said. “I have a saying that storytelling is a divine tool that we use to transform ourselves and others, and so through telling stories on my own, I began to do that to cope better with my challenges.”
Gray also teaches Media Research, Communication and Communication Training and Techniques.
Gray worked for Paramount Pictures and climbed her way up in the entertainment industry, landing a position in the Paramount Acquisitions department.
Just before getting her promotion, Gray said she questioned what it meant to be successful, prompting her to look into a career as a professor.
“I started to realize that even though I would have a version of success, if I worked my way up on the executive track in the entertainment industry, it wasn’t necessarily allowing me to be where God needed me most and where I could have the most impact,” Gray said.
Gray went back to school to earn her doctorate in Communication where her thesis centered around redefining disability. She said she wanted to pursue her love for stories and storytelling as a professor.
Journey to Pepperdine
Gray said she found out about Pepperdine as a child through events held at her Church of Christ in her hometown in Tennessee.
“I remember being a little kid just overhearing the word Pepperdine where these great conversations about spirituality and religion were being talked about,” Gray said.
When she saw an opening as a professor in Communication at Pepperdine, Gray said the job description aligned with her values.
Passionate about justice, diversity and being holistic in helping students become the best versions of themselves, Gray said she knew Pepperdine was the place for her. She also hopes to help deepen the faith of her students.
“How can we do this in a way that prioritizes our faith, and where we can show our faith authentically to students and to each other as faculty, and then allow students to explore what that looks like for themselves?” Gray said.
Gray said she wants to use her career background in the entertainment industry and passion for social justice to educate the Pepperdine community.
“I can use all these experiences, whether it’s my advocacy work and how passionate I am about serving marginalized communities or my professional background and storytelling, to inspire the students I teach and also to help them to accomplish their goals,” Gray said.
Gray said she aims to start meaningful dialogue with students from all types of backgrounds in and outside of her classes.
“I would describe myself as someone who is a lifelong learner,” Gray said. “I never want anyone to feel that I am the authority figure. I want to help develop my students’ critical thinking skills and their ability to come contemplate for themselves the topics that we’re covering and apply what they’re learning outside the classroom.”
As a professor, Gray said it is crucial to support her students in their development as people, not just academically.
“I’m someone who cares about who you are as a person and not just how well you’re doing in my class — or in any class,” Gray said. “I’m someone who is wanting to do everything I can to help you to be successful not just in school but in life.”
Liza Esquibias contributed to this reporting.
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