Coming Into His Own
Brandon Mack supports the dreams of current and future Owls.
By Lily Wulfemeyer | Photo by Tommy LaVergne
On paper, Brandon Mack ’06 has worked in the Office of Admission at Rice for 11 years, where he is currently an associate director. But he has been contributing to the admission process since he was a student double majoring in policy studies and sociology. “I was a senior interviewer, and I absolutely loved it,” Mack reminisces. “It was fun talking to students about Rice.”
These days, Mack has an overflowing professional plate. In addition to his job, he is the staff sponsor for Rice Pride, an activist with Black Lives Matter Houston and a Ph.D. student at the University of Houston. As an undergraduate, his love of coordinating O-Week and creating advocacy-related programming stoked his passion for activism, education and community. College was also when Mack began fully exploring the intersections of his identities as same-gender-loving gay and Black.
“Becoming more and more of myself, and being more outwardly about myself was very important to me, especially by the time I was a senior. So, I started getting involved in activism and things of that nature, both on and off campus.”
For Mack, being himself “has been a journey,” one which informs his work in the Office of Admission. As the associate director, he coordinates transfer admissions, and serves as the liaison to the School of Architecture. He also works on domestic and international recruitment efforts, where he is a territory manager for Florida, the Caribeean, Puerto Rico and Africa. A common denominator of Mack’s roles is his responsibility in guiding high school students through a life-changing decision, something he is highly sensitive to.
He references a passage from Michelle Obama’s memoir “Becoming” where her guidance counselor discourages her from applying to her now-alma mater, Princeton. Mack faced similar bias, as his high school guidance counselor said that Rice would be a “long shot” for him, despite his record of excellence at a competitive 5A school. His own approach to recruitment could not be more different. While working to reach the broadest swathe of communities possible, Mack encourages students to indulge in their dreams. “The college admission process . . . is about feeling open to thinking about the possibilities of your life. And it could be as far-fetched as you think it could be.”
By participating in campuswide conversations about college access and equity, Mack’s student advocacy extends far beyond the recruitment process. “We also need to be concerned [with the question], ‘Is Rice the best place for all of our students?’” He points out that a majority of institutions of higher education were never created to include people of color. “If we truly want places and spaces to embody diversity, equity and inclusion, it requires intentional actions in order for that to happen,” he says. This call-to-action on campus dovetails naturally with his activism off campus, as well.
Since 2013, Mack has been organizing with the group that is now the Black Lives Matter Houston chapter. In addition to addressing instances of police brutality, the team’s daily labor is dynamic. “We work on food insecurity issues, we work on education issues, LGBTQ+ issues — the full gamut of how do we make sure that people know that Black lives, in all of our intersections, matter.” In particular, Mack champions a move away from allyship toward accompliceship, which is rooted, once again, in intentional action. They are currently working to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act and fight legislation targeting transgender communities.
Mack’s work on and off campus often converges in this drive to manifest a world where we can share in the richness of being ourselves. “I’m fully who I am everywhere I go. And I want the world to operate in the same way where we all get to be fully ourselves in every single space. . . Imagine what this world could be.” He also offers encouragement for Rice students exercising that imagination: “Trust your own voice. . . Don’t wait for permission, don’t wait for the charismatic leader. You’re that person. You’re that leader. Take that initiative. And along the way, you’re going to find supporters.”
Mack would know — he’s been finding supporters and building up his communities within Houston for the better part of two decades. And while he acknowledges that there is much more work to be done, he finds moments of celebration along the way. “For me, being in community with people. . . that’s where I find joy. Because it is about community at the end of the day.”