Feature Stories 2023: Gabriel Johnson '24: Making a difference

Health & Society major Gabriel Johnson pictured in the amphitheater
Feature Stories 2023: Gabriel Johnson '24: Making a difference
Gabriel Johnson '24: Making a difference

Health & society major finds passion working towards a future that benefits all

Why UMassD?

What brought you to UMass Dartmouth?

"I would actually come here all the time as a kid because my mom was finishing her bachelors here, so it was a place I was already familiar with and a place I knew I could succeed at."

What advice would you give to a freshman?

"First, make sure you picked your major for the right reason. When things inevitably get harder, a flimsy motivation will not help you deal with the pressure. Second, find a skill to learn independently, like an instrument. We learn in such a rigid way for the first 20 years of our lives. I've found teaching myself kind of reversed that mindset and reinvigorated my learning."

Studying Health & Society

Johnson bounced around majors during his first year at UMass Dartmouth, first enrolling as a computer science major, before trying a semester in the sociology department. After determining they wanted a more grounded and direct involvement with their people, Johnson made the switch to health and society, and hasn’t looked back.

What drew you to your major?

"I got an email about the health and society major explaining what it offered, and I switched immediately. I love it so far because it’s everything I enjoy engaging in, and it provides the perspective I think every person on the planet should have regarding how the world around us impacts our health."

Why is studying health & society important?

"It’s crucial because it’s quite literally two fundamental aspects of our everyday lives; the world around us and how it interacts with and impacts on our health. It gives us vital information and perspectives that are easily missed and overlooked if you aren’t already thinking about them. It also breaks down the societal 'truths' we feel are intrinsic and the circumstances that led us here."

Why should high school students consider a health & society major?

"Because we are living through the results of a country that doesn’t care for the health and well-being of its population. Health and society expands your knowledge so you can bring it back to your community to further understand our situation so that we can all fight for the change we can’t continue without. The world can be significantly better than it is. We just have to be serious, imaginative, and willing to get our hands dirty."

Have you had a favorite class?

"My crime and justice studies 'War on Drugs' class with Associate Professor Tammi Arford. This class was a perfect synthesis of the way drug addiction, enforcement, and trafficking interplay as a result of colonialism and capitalism. It quite literally connected health & society with a topic most people wouldn’t associate with health, which is part of the appeal of the major."

The labor education center

Outside the classroom, Johnson is involved with the Arnold M. Dubin Labor Education Center on campus, which he describes as a way to learn in action regarding labor rights. After starting out as a summer of solidarity intern during the summer of 2022, Johnson proved themself and was offered a paid position for the fall semester of 2022 and spring semester of 2023. 

Can you describe your internship with the labor education center?

"I loved it. It was a 5-day, 20-hour per week solidarity program that assisted numerous ongoing local campaigns and events. I met a lot of people and learned several new tasks and skills. There was no typical day, with a brand new and incredibly valuable experience every day with great people. I can’t wait to do it again this summer."

What do you do now during the semester?

"My role now is very similar to what I did in the summer, which is supporting whichever organization or initiative the center is currently backing. During the academic year, there is a greater focus inward on the needs of the center and the projects that it undertakes, such as supporting student research, collaboration with Worker Education Programs, teaching adults English, and the Labor Leader Banquet."

How does this benefit your career/professional goals?

"It’s helped to reinforce that I want whatever I end up doing to involve this kind of work where I’m supporting my local communities and organizations to build something better than what we had yesterday. To be constantly working towards a future that everyone can benefit from, not just myself."

What do you want other people to know about the center?

"We are open for people looking to get their feet wet in the labor movement or even just folks looking for a space to learn about it in good company."

More info

Johnson has shared a paper on gun violence as a health issue, and a presentation on doulaship as an action to address maternity and mortality rates, for those interested in either topic or the type of curricula a health and society major engages in.