Meet the Faces of GSDM: Joseph Johnson, GSDM Assistant Director of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, & Belonging


Joseph Johnson said he is enjoying the new challenge of working for a professional school and adding patients to the community for whom he is advocating. (Photo credit: Dave Green.)

Joseph Johnson’s original career goals were more focused on the football field than the dental operatory. After his playing days at North Carolina State University, Johnson, now the assistant director of diversity, equity, inclusion & belonging, was drafted by the Chicago Bears in the National Football League; he played in the professional for four years finishing his football career in the Canadian Football League.  

However, after his four years being a professional athlete, he decided to leave football and go back to school, studying kinesiology and exercise science at the University of North Carolina Wilmington with the goal of becoming a physical education teacher and coach.  

It was then when he realized that during his initial college education, he hadn’t received sufficient institutional support to help him achieve his academic goals. This sparked his desire to be more than just a teacher, but a champion for student’s needs.  

“I thought there was no one to talk to, just personally talk to or advocate for me,” Johnson said. 

Johnson started working as a substitute teacher, seeing students who needed someone on their side to assist them in navigating various situations. He slowly transitioned to community-based advocacy work, leading his wife to suggest he combine his passions to become a social worker. He decided to pursue a master’s degree in social work from the University of Connecticut.  

“Coaching and engaging people is always something that was one of my strong suits,” Johnson said. “It didn’t [occur to me] until my wife realized that I was doing coaching and advocacy without the skill set that social work gives you, and the tools that social work provides for practitioners who are wanting to do advocacy-based work or do intervention kind of work.” 

Johnson joined GSDM in January 2023, pulling from skills developed from both his athletic coaching and social work experiences to provide support to initiatives created by Larry Dunham DMD 83, assistant dean for diversity, equity, Inclusion, & belonging, and develop new programming, such as the Pre-Matriculation Enrichment Program and climate surveys.  

Johnson said he enjoys empowering GSDM students, faculty, and staff by promoting collaborative programming that emphasizes connection to each other and the greater Boston University Medical Campus community. He works directly with the GSDM community to hear about their experiences and how he can best support them. 

He said his previous jobs, most notably his work as school social worker at Kingswood Oxford School in West Hartford, Connecticut, and as student diversity coordinator at North Carolina State University in the College of Humanities and Social Science, allowed him to be the personal support system within academia that he wished he had as a student. 

Right now, he is enjoying the new challenge of working for a professional school and adding patients to the community for whom he is advocating.  

“Those experiences have helped me be the assistant director for diversity & inclusion here at GSDM,” Johnson said. “We are a fully operating clinic with a student body. You have to be aware and understand that there are multiple moving parts.  How do we navigate and ensure that our advocacy and our programming meet the needs of all the different components? I think all the roles in which I’ve had prior to this has really prepared me.” 

As for the future of his time at GSDM, Johnson hopes to develop programming for community discussions about diversity and inclusion. He wants a platform for students, faculty, and staff from different disciplines and campuses to share their thoughts.  

“[It would be] similar to a town hall, but much more geared to this cross-communication talking, having prompts to talk about [but] not necessarily providing information to the community,” Johnson said. “It’s more of a dialogue than it is of providing information.” 

He is also continuing to learn more about dental education. He admits that there is a lot he does not know, but is eager to learn by connecting with the GSDM community. 

Johnson said he wants everyone in the GSDM community to know that he is here to support, advocate, and listen. His metaphorical door is always open for what he jokingly calls “a cup of joe with Joe.” 

“You can convince yourself of anything that you want if you’re only talking to yourself,” Johnson said. “Sometimes it’s good to have an outer ear listening to what you want to accomplish, what do you want to say, and in that, you may come up with your own answers. But if not, then I can maybe be helpful in helping you achieve whatever goal you’re trying to set.”  


By Rachel Grace Philipson