About Us

Health Equity Circle (HEC) educates, develops, and supports future health equity leaders by training and mentoring undergraduate, graduate and professional students in the principles and practices of community organizing. Engaging students during their formative education allows health equity to become part of their developing professional identities and develops leadership capacity in both professional and civic capacities. 

Current and future health professionals are frontline witnesses to the effects of the social determinants of health on patient outcomes, however they are often siloed, both from other healthcare professionals and on-the-ground community organizations. This isolation means that the upstream causes of health inequities cannot be collectively addressed. By providing training in community organizing we teach students how to look upstream for the causes of clinical health disparities, and how to build relationships with community organizations in order to collaborate on the systemic changes needed to address root causes. HEC student leaders partner with local community organizations to organize together on issues of health inequity, lifting up the voices of those most affected and acting to build health equity through local campaigns to address health disparities. Engagement in community organizing helps students maintain and build relationships with the communities they come from and maintain the connection to community that can be lost through the process of higher education and professionalization.

HEC chapters are student-led, inter-professional networks that connect emerging student leaders from across disciplines. We acknowledge that health equity is a shared responsibility and that all inequities have health consequences. Our chapters include undergrad, graduate, and professional students in the social sciences, public health, healthcare, and law. 

The goal of HEC is to build community amongst students and community organizations serving the common good. These relationships form from a foundation of shared stories and mutual respect among diverse groups. When we listen to each other’s pressures, patterns emerge enabling us to see the systems of oppression upstream causing downstream effects. When we address these causes together, we create shared priorities to build a more equitable community.

Through membership in local Industrial Areas Foundation affiliates (Sound Alliance, Spokane Alliance, Metropolitan Alliance for Common Good), HEC is connected to the nation's oldest and largest community organizing network, with a time-tested model of leadership training and campaign development.

The first HEC chapter was founded in 2009 by students and faculty/staff allies that saw health equity and the skills of community organizing as essential to their education and development and refused to wait for their university to do it for them. Since then, HEC student leaders have worked with community partners on campaigns to address the need for paid sick leave in Spokane, the need for dual translations on prescription pill bottles in Oregon, the need for more affordable housing stock in Portland, the need for transitional encampments in Seattle.

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