Vanessa Gomez Brake is the Associate Dean of Religious Life at the University of Southern California. She is the first humanist chaplain to serve in this capacity at any American university. In her role, she works to support and promote university religious and spiritual life broadly conceived, and helps oversee more than 90 student religious groups and 50 religious directors on campus.
By the recommendation of Provost Quick’s Advisory Task Force on Immigration, Vanessa also provides confidential counseling and support to immigrant and international students. In this capacity, she assists members of the university community in navigating and facilitating support resources at USC’s cultural centers, Division of Student Affairs, Office of International Students, Office of Campus Wellness and Crisis Intervention, Student Counseling Center, Office of Financial Aid, Center for the Study of Immigrant Integration, the Pullias Center for Higher Education, and the Gould Immigration Clinic.
Previously, Vanessa worked at Stanford University’s Office for Religious Life, where she helped lead campus programming and worked closely with numerous student religious groups. At Stanford, she organized ceremonies, events, programs, and worship services at the historic Stanford Memorial Church and CIRCLE: Center for Inter-Religious Community, Learning, and Experiences. Additionally, she played a supporting role at the Windhover Contemplative Center, and the campus-wide series Contemplation-by-Design. Vanessa also coordinated a delegation of Stanford students and staff to attend the Parliament of World Religions in 2015.
As an accomplished Filipino folk dancer and multi-instrumentalist, Vanessa has performed at the White House and Carnegie Hall for Filipino American History Month celebrations. Her folk artistry is an extension of her interfaith work, as her performances showcase the diverse traditions, rituals, and beliefs of Muslim, Christian, and indigenous peoples of the Philippines.
Vanessa received her Bachelor of Arts degree in Religious Studies and Psychology from Arizona State University. She received her Master of Science degree in Conflict Analysis and Resolution from George Mason University. She is currently completing her Master of Divinity degree at the Chicago Theological Seminary (CTS), where she also received the 2018 Rabbi Herman E. Schaalman Interreligious Leadership Award. In 2019, she was the recipient of the Unitarian Universalist Humanist Association – Person of the Year Award. She holds a Certificate in Humanist Studies & Leadership from the Humanist Institute, and is endorsed as a humanist chaplain by the Humanist Society.