Health Justice and Belonging Conference Tackles Community-Informed Health

Health Justice and Belonging Conference Speakers

More than 370 national and local community members, health care providers, scholars, students and practitioners gathered together for the college’s fourth annual Health Justice and Belonging Conference, held in February 2023. 

Since its inception four years ago, the college’s Health Justice and Belonging Conference has been intentionally designed to ensure a model of collaboration between the college, greater university, and community. Then known as the Inclusive Excellence Scholar in Residence, the conference began as an early college initiative created to both animate and sustain our commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion and advance objectives laid out in our Strategic Diversity Action Plan. 

“The conference has really evolved over the past years,” said David Garcia, assistant dean for health equity and inclusion. “It’s a place where diverse members of the community—not just students, clinicians, and educators—can collaborate and discuss themes such as community-informed practices and health justice and belonging education and scholarship in real-world applications.” 

Planning the conference with the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic and the unrest resulting from the murder of George Floyd showcased the importance of creating a conference that tackled difficult issues and intentionally sought to reduce health inequities. 

“The last few years have called us as a community-based medical school to be part of the solution,” said Garcia. “This conference is an important part of the work we do to ensure people are living better, longer.” 

With the largest turnout since its inception, the 2023 conference explored the theme For Each, a paradigm shift from the concept, For All. 

While we often strive for a thriving society, health, and public good “for all,” this is not the reality for people in far too many communities, explained Esteban Herevia, health justice and belonging strategist. In contrast, the conference brought people together to understand what each person and community needs through partnership and reciprocity. 

Speakers from organizations including the COVID-19 Farmworker Study Collective, Oregon Health Authority, Association of American Medical Colleges, and the Way to Justice partnered with the college for the conference. They spoke on topics that ranged from the role community engagement plays in public health, ecojustice, and racialized medicine to the disparate impacts by the justice system and inequities in mental health care. 

“The conference is a bridge between health care, people, and communities,” said Herevia. “It helps us explore answers to the question, ‘what does optimal health look like from you and your community?’”

The fifth annual Health Justice and Belonging Conference is scheduled for February 2024 and will continue to play a significant role in the college’s work to understand what each person and community needs to live longer, better lives through partnership and reciprocity.