Informed by her own personal experiences, Kiara Hunter '23 approaches public health through an anti-racist lens.
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For Kiara Hunter ’23, public health is the perfect vehicle to accomplish her mission of infusing society with a love that could alter life paths, centering solutions and empathy rather than hate and exclusion.
“In high school, I would not stop talking to my mom about politics and social justice,” she says. “Coming to college, I wanted a major that allows me to focus on all the things I care about and how it affects the social, physical and mental health of individuals.”
Kiara found that in Elon University’s public health studies department and all the other areas she is involved in on campus. She also majors in statistics, minors in poverty and social justice and leadership studies, and is involved in the Health, Equity and Racism (H.E.R.) Lab. In 2021 she earned the Lumen Prize, Elon’s premier undergraduate research award. “Everything I do, all the things I try to involve myself in are driven by health equity,” she says. “It’s what my research centers on; it’s what I care about most.”
Her personal experience was a major catalyst for this passion. Kiara’s parents separated when she was a teenager, and her living situation instantly changed. “Suddenly I was in government housing and using food stamps,” she says. Her brothers had encounters with the criminal justice system and faced even greater challenges.
For her own sake and that of her brothers, Kiara decided to become a change agent. She approaches public health through an anti-racist lens and cares about varied societal issues such as mass incarceration, food insecurity, water sanitation, physical health and immigration. She studies why these things happen so frequently in her communities. She also hopes to enact change by adding love to the equation.
“How do I instill love into public health and show that love and compassion are missing from people’s lives?” she asks. “I’m driven by the possibility to show love that I wish my brothers were shown growing up.”
Kiara believes this love is not limited to family relationships but extends to the entire community. She wonders if her older brother’s choices would have been affected had he received love while in school or walking in the neighborhood. “Love is caring about the people in your community enough that you want better for them,” she says. “Maybe if the community loved my brother more, maybe some of the barriers he had to overcome wouldn’t have existed.”
At Elon, Kiara is working to spread the love she wanted her brothers to receive. She was involved in student government before focusing on her undergraduate research, and now works in the offices of Disability Resources and Residence Life. As a resident assistant and apartment manager, Kiara supports students, particularly students of color who may feel excluded. “I just try to show up for them, to be present,” she says. “Even when I could be home, they know I’m here for them.”
Kiara intends to continue with health equity research after graduation as she pursues a master’s degree in population health at University College London. “I want to make the world more equitable for other people’s brothers and sisters,” she says.
Kiara is part of “Huemanity of People,” a series by the Division of Inclusive Excellence that celebrates the diversity of Elon’s community to uplift the values of inclusion and equity.