Dakeyla Johnson
Feature Stories 2021: Dakeyla Johnson ’22: Finding a home and a voice at UMassD
Dakeyla Johnson ’22: Finding a home and a voice at UMassD

Discovering the Frederick Douglass Unity House opens opportunities

There’s often one part of a student’s college experience that defines it. The course, activity, or relationship where a student discovers their talents and passions. Dakeyla Johnson ’22 stepped into the Frederick Douglass Unity House and found her second home.

Johnson arrived at UMass Dartmouth from Boston, and faced a bit of an adjustment living away from home in her first year. She withdrew to attend a university closer to home, but as a commuter student, she longed for the community she saw at UMassD.

So, it was back to UMassD for Johnson in fall semester of 2019.

Upon her return to UMassD, a friend introduced her to the Frederick Douglass Unity House. LaSella Hall, the associate director, encouraged her to get involved in the Unity House’s activities, like the Black Student Union, House of Deliberations, movie nights, and Black History 4 Seasons events. Soon enough, Johnson was motivated to do even more, participating in organizations and activities where she felt she could make an impact for other UMassD students. She was appointed student trustee (a position she later stepped down from due to her other commitments), joined the Vote Coalition, served as a program assistant at the Unity House, and was named to the university’s Diversity Council.

“When I came back, I recognized that UMassD’s culture was what I was looking for,” Johnson explains. “I saw that I could do so much more and help my classmates. I started out shy and reserved, but the opportunities and resources I found here gave me the chance to bloom and grow.”

“For me that resource was the Frederick Douglass Unity House,” she said. In her search for her second “home,” UMassD’s multicultural student organizations created the environment she was looking for. “They add so much to the campus experience; you feel like you’re at home. Students, faculty and staff at the Unity House feel more like family.”

The Unity House also introduced Johnson to the Dell EMC’s Changing the Face of Tech program, which is aimed at preparing men and women of diverse backgrounds for employment in the technology field. “It helped me see the opportunities for my major in that field, and gain more networking skills.”

A voice for students

As a student leader, Johnson takes her role as a voice for students seriously.

“I am a strong believer of speaking out about what you truly want. As a representative of many students, I am willing to stand up and speak out so that students feel as though their voices are heard and they are effectively represented.”

Part of Johnson’s work is representing students’ needs to administration. On the Diversity Council, she is among a group of student leaders, faculty, staff, and community members who work to address issues on campus and create environment where community feels safe. She brings the student perspective of what challenges they may encounter and what resources they need to overcome those.

“I work to make sure my voice is heard, for both myself and for students who have the same background as me, but do not feel comfortable enough to speak up for themselves.”

Finding a career path

Johnson was initially drawn to a major in crime and justice studies and minor in Black studies because gun violence and incarceration had affected her family. As she explored the curriculum, her career path started to take shape, inspiring an interest in social work, where she can continue her passion for supporting others. She currently networks actively with people who work in social work, counseling, and law enforcement to find internships and jobs related to the field and her interests.

“I am passionate about these classes. I learn to express my opinions and I love hearing different perspectives from my classmates.”

Like many other students, finances are a challenge for Johnson, so she has depended on scholarships and aid. “I have siblings, so I can’t rely on my family to pay for everything. I’m grateful for the financial support that I have received.”

Johnson is eager to return to campus this fall, where she can study at the Claire T. Carney Library, attend events at the Frederick Douglass Unity House, and catch up with friends between classes at the Campus Center. “I like to be involved, help students, help my community, and be social—everything is better when there are more people around and chances to interact!”