Brandi Johnson kicked off the 2022-23 academic year with a much more positive attitude. Not that she didn’t always have a positive attitude, but two pivotal events were happening in her life.
“I got married!” said Johnson, who wed husband Lance at Misselwood in October and set off on a Caribbean honeymoon so heavenly that it had her googling real estate in Antigua. “Ten out of ten do not recommend planning a wedding, but ten out of ten I do recommend honeymoons.”
Just a month before, Endicott’s Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer was attending a ceremony of another kind—the ribbon-cutting of the College’s new Center for Belonging. After a summerlong renovation and a name change, the center has already ushered in a new era of programming and a cultural shift at the Nest.
“I came into this academic year like, ‘Alright, this is it. Things have come to fruition and now it’s time to set some solid goals,’” she said.
Inside Johnson’s Center for Belonging Office, it still overjoys her when students come to the center to attend talks, find a quiet place to study, and or sit and meditate with the Director of Belonging and Spiritual Life Rev. Gail Cantor.
“At the very beginning, it was, ‘How do we fill the space?’ And a lot of people were still thinking, ‘What is the Center for Belonging? What does that mean?’ But I think slowly, people are realizing that this can be a hub of whatever it is you need,” she said.
This August, Johnson will celebrate 15 years at Endicott, where she’s previously served as Dean of Students and Vice President of Student Affairs. But as an enterprising young college student once herself, Johnson had planned on becoming “the next Oprah,” she confessed.
While attending the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, Johnson wrote for The Daily Hampshire Gazette and imagined herself donning Prada and Gucci while interviewing celebrities and dignitaries someday.
That changed once Johnson started working with inner city youth in Boston, a job she fell in love with and which paved the way for a Director of Community Life role at Regis College, where Johnson helped transition the school from predominantly white and female to newly diverse and co-ed.
“It was another great learning experience—being able to engulf myself in higher ed via student affairs and residence life where you live, breathe, eat, sleep the job,” she said. “You learn so much and you learn real quick.”
Thanks to years of experience in student affairs, Johnson said she thrives wearing multiple hats. So much so that she almost couldn’t envision her next role as Endicott’s Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer because she’d honed such a talent for crisis management.
“I’m really good in a crisis, crisis doesn’t scare me,” she said.
But with the Center for Belonging now open, Johnson is eyeing what’s next and thinking strategically. Her to-do list? Grow employee resource groups (ERGs) at the College. Attract more students to the Center for Belonging. Help unify the DEI task forces within different schools and departments on campus. Offer more DEIB-focused training. The list goes on.
Johnson has also recently inked a deal to bring in stylists specializing in Black hair to campus. “To me, this is a huge thing, specifically for our students who don’t have the ability to get their hair done close to campus,” she said.
Fifteen years in the making, Johnson can finally see her mission crystallizing at Endicott.
“I don’t feel like I’ve left my mark yet, but I’ve realized, wow, I have this ability to start something here at the College and grow it as best as I can, then pass the torch at some point. That’s huge.”
Here, we get to know Johnson better through a round of 20 questions. Interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What’s something no one knows about you?
I am a numismatist (someone who collects coins; started when I was about 5) and a dissectologist (an avid jigsaw puzzle player; started when I was in grad school). I’ve been playing chess since I was seven. I love playing Super Mario Brothers and Donkey Kong on my old-school Nintendo. I enjoy baking and making candy (specifically Cashew Clusters) and I pick up random crafting obsessions from time to time; currently, I’m into diamond art painting. I also like searching for and listening to vinyl records.
What do you consider to be your greatest achievement?
My daughter and becoming a mother.
Where is your next vacation?
Anywhere my 8.5-year-old chooses—I promised her the next choice since she didn’t get to come on our honeymoon, which she was not happy about.
For what in your life are you most grateful?
Life, family, health, and the ability to think freely.
Who do you most admire?
I am not sure there is just one person I most admire … but there are characteristics in people I genuinely admire. I admire people who have the ability to inspire others, people who respect others and give of themselves without looking for praise, people who are resilient and find ways to reinvent themselves, and people that are honest and true to themselves. I admire people who had the odds against them and still found a way to succeed.
What’s your idea of perfect happiness?
Living life authentically, with integrity, humility, and compassion.
What food do you crave the most?
Tater tot poutine from Bostonia Public House in Boston. Chowder fries and fried pickles from Sea Level Oyster Bar. Old Bay wings from Fibber McGees. The flourless chocolate cake that Ed the baker here at Endicott used to make. My mom’s Caesar salad. My stepdad's meat sauce.
What’s your favorite song?
This one is SO hard for me—I love music! To attempt to answer succinctly:
- Any Erykah Badu song
- When I need some spoken word/affirmations:
- When I need to calm down:
- When I need some gospel:
What movie haunts you?
I spent a good portion of my life being scared of the movie The Gremlins to the point that I was convinced that Gremlins lived under my bed—so I jumped off of my bed all the way through my first year of college so they couldn’t pull me under. Two movies that mentally haunt me because they hit too close to home are Crash and Higher Learning.
Are you a reality TV person?
I’m not really a TV person in general unless someone suggests a really good series (currently taking suggestions). Plus, TikTok and Instagram are like reality TV and I am on both of those too much.
If you could have dinner with anyone, dead or alive, who is it?
I would love to have one last dinner with my grandmothers. Alive—Issa Rae.
What are three adjectives you’d use to describe Endicott?
Beautiful, evolving, and special.
Where is your favorite spot on campus?
There’s a space between the carriage house and Misselwood where they usually put two Adirondacks facing the ocean … I love it there.
What’s your favorite city in the world?
New Orleans and Lima, Peru.
If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go?
Who are your biggest inspirations/influences?
I adore the musician Erykah Badu. I have been to every Massachusetts concert she has performed as well as a few in NYC and Connecticut.
What’s one thing that can instantly make your day better?
What does the average day look like for you?
I wake up around 5:30 a.m., meditate/pray, take the dog out, then I get my daughter’s breakfast and lunch ready and make sure she is awake so she can get ready for school. I get her to school at 8:15 a.m., and once I get to the office, I am usually jumping directly into a meeting or attempting to sift through the unreal amount of emails I get per day. I typically make at least one trip to the popcorn machine in lower Callahan and luckily have the opportunity to connect with at least four students each day, even if it’s a quick check-in.
After work, it’s always a scramble to figure out what’s for dinner, and depending on the day, I bring my daughter to karate or we practice the piano. Bed for her is by 8:15 p.m. and for me, it’s typically around 11 p.m. (depending on how much I randomly pace around our house finding something else that needs to get done).
What are some words of advice you have for students who are about to graduate?
Time is precious and you can never get it back, so spend it wisely. Remember to laugh. Do not let fear control you. It is ALWAYS okay to ask for help. Keep a journal; write whatever you want, but make sure to record at least five things you are happy about every day.