Students work with Massachusetts coalition to fight health inequities

Yvette Cho and Briana Acosta
Yvette Cho and Briana Acosta

April 10, 2023 – For Briana Acosta and Yvette Cho, the inequities that plague the U.S. healthcare system are personal.

Both Acosta and Cho, master of public health students at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, saw the impacts of healthcare inequities in their own families and communities throughout childhood—even if they couldn’t articulate what was wrong at the time.

“I remember taking my first health policy class as an undergraduate and learning about all the nuances that go into the healthcare system, which helped me to contextualize my experiences growing up,” said Cho. “You know inequity exists, but you don’t know why it exists, and that really gave me my ‘why.’”

Today, Acosta, MPH ’23, and Cho, MPH ’24, are working to address longstanding health inequities affecting communities of color and other historically marginalized groups in roles at the Health Equity Compact, a coalition of more than 65 leaders of color working together to advance health equity throughout Massachusetts. Its members include Harvard Chan School’s Mary Travis Bassett, Kizzmekia Corbett, Lumas Joseph Helaire, David Williams, and Dean Michelle Williams.

The coalition, which launched last year, brings together leaders from the fields of health, business, labor, and philanthropy to collaborate on opportunities to ensure health equity. The Compact’s work aims to advance reforms in a variety of ways, from advocating for legislation at the state level to writing op-eds to facilitating dialogues within communities.

Acosta and Cho are working with two of the leaders of the Compact. Acosta, who completed her coursework at Harvard Chan School earlier this year, works with Michael Curry, President and CEO of the Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers, whom she first met when he served as a guest lecturer in one of her Harvard Chan classes. In her role, she helps plan events focused on health equity among state leaders and within communities. Cho—who previously consulted at the Compact before arriving at Harvard—remains connected to the organization while working with Compact member Jeffrey Sánchez, an instructor at Harvard Chan School and former Massachusetts state representative.

Both Acosta and Cho credit their mentors at Harvard Chan School and the Health Equity Compact for helping them learn new skills aimed at successfully building coalitions and advancing legislation. They say their experiences have helped them grow more confident in their own abilities.

“I think oftentimes these policy spaces may seem very intimidating or very exclusive to a particular type of person,” said Acosta. “I think for me it took encouragement from those mentors to really put myself out there and say, ‘I am a person who should be in this room and be at this table.’”

Both Acosta and Cho plan to continue pushing for health equity in their future careers. Said Cho, “I don’t think anything makes me lean at the edge of my seat more than talking about the opportunities that exist to make the country a more equitable place.”

Jeff Sobotko

Photos courtesy Yvette Cho and Briana Acosta