Dawn Hunter, J.D., M.P.H., is director of the Network’s Southeastern Region Office. Dawn is an experienced state health department policymaker and legislative analyst whose work focuses on research, analysis, implementation, and capacity building related to the use of law and policy to improve health outcomes and advance racial equity. She is particularly interested in the development of racial equity action plans and implementation strategies at the state and local level and leads an ongoing assessment of declarations of racism as a public health crisis and related efforts to address health inequities. In the past year, she has been collaborating with partners in the Collaborative for Anti-Racism and Equity. Dawn also focuses on strategies to improve health outcomes through civic engagement and served as the lead author of the Health & Democracy Index. She also conducts training on equity in public health messaging through the Becoming Better Messengers initiative. Prior to joining the Network, Dawn served in a number of roles focused on public health, policy, and health equity, including serving as deputy state health official at the New Mexico Department of Health, where some of her core responsibilities included managing the Department’s legislative agenda and policy activities as well as strategic planning, performance management, and public health accreditation.

Dawn started her career in child protective services in Hillsborough County, Florida.  She later transitioned into research and development as a microbiologist at the University of South Florida, Center for Biological Defense, with a focus on rapid detection methods for food and waterborne pathogens.  Dawn is Certified in Public Health by the National Board of Public Health Examiners. She received her A.B. in English Literature from Princeton University, her B.S. in Microbiology and her M.P.H. in Global Communicable Disease from the University of South Florida, and her J.D. from Stetson University College of Law.

Articles & Resources

Fighting for Public Health: How Do We Strengthen Public Health Advocacy at Local, State, and National Levels?

WebinarsPublic Health AuthorityPublic Health Advocacy and Decision-Making

January 26, 2023
by Dawn Hunter

Attend this webinar to obtain insights and the key take-aways from a feasibility study, commissioned by the Network, in which public health advocates and leaders from 45 organizations where asked how we can strengthen public health advocacy. Their responses provided a picture of the current state of affairs in public health and opportunities to strengthen the voice of public health in advocating for evidence-based, sound public health interventions and policies, and for the profession and practice of public health itself.

View page

Legislative Trends in Health and Racial Equity, 2021-2022

Law & Policy InsightsMechanisms for Advancing Health EquityLegislation and Legal Challenges

December 9, 2022
by Dawn Hunter and Sara Rogers

Creating a government that is truly for everyone requires laws and policies that eliminate racial and ethnic disparities and improve outcomes for all. As 2023 state legislative sessions approach, it is important to look back at trends over the last few years in legislation impacting health and racial equity to understand how states are trying to address the health impacts of racism, be accountable for commitments to address racism as a public health crisis, and ensure the conditions for all people to thrive. State legislation is one important mechanism for creating the infrastructure for healthy communities. We assessed legislation for the past two years, looking at 447 bills. Below, we discuss two important trends.

Read more

Using Law and Policy to Advance Health Equity: Recommendations from the White House Health Equity Task Force

Law & Policy InsightsCOVID-19 and Health EquityMechanisms for Advancing Health Equity

July 13, 2022
by Dawn Hunter

On January 21, 2021, the Biden Administration issued a National Strategy for the COVID-19 Response and Pandemic Preparedness. One of the action items in the plan was to establish the COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force to make recommendations on strategies to mitigate health and social inequities due to COVID-19. The Task Force concluded its work in October 2021, issuing a Final Report and Recommendations. The report includes 36 recommendations involving law and policy that provide a framework for improving health outcomes.

Read more

Racism as a Public Health Crisis—Perspectives on Healthy Aging

ReportRacism as a Public Health Crisis

April 21, 2022
by Betsy Lawton and Dawn Hunter

This report uses a revised Social Determinants of Health (SDOH) framework put forward by Ruqaiijah Yearby to examine the role of law as a tool to address structural discrimination, with a focus on health impacts across the lifespan. This framework illustrates how law and the systems it interacts with can shape health and well-being and identifies structural discrimination as the root cause of disparities in health outcomes. 

View page

COVID-19 Equity Task Forces as An Opportunity to Advance Health Equity

Law & Policy InsightsCOVID-19 and Health Equity

February 23, 2022
by Betsy Lawton and Dawn Hunter

Early on in the pandemic, as the inequitable COVID-19 health outcomes experienced by Black, Hispanic, Latino and Latina, and Indigenous communities were becoming more pronounced, many state and local governments created task forces to address the disproportionate burden of COVID-19 on communities of color and other marginalized populations. The Network analyzed the composition and role of these task forces, the legal mechanisms establishing them, common categories of task force recommendations and top policy recommendations, and opportunities for task forces to translate recommendations into actions that advance health equity.

Read more

Network for Public Health Law Comment to HHS Providing Evidence Showing Relationship Between Health and Voting

Network NewsCivic Engagement and Voting

January 11, 2022
by Dawn Hunter

The Network's Southeastern Region Director Dawn Hunter submitted a response on January 10 to the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Solicitation of Written Comments on Proposed Healthy People 2030 Objectives and Request for Information on the Relationship Between Voter Participation and Health. Read the response here. The Healthy People initiative serves as key guidance to health departments and their partners in developing a robust and comprehensive agenda that improves public health and health equity in the communities they serve.

Read more

Voting Rights: Why They Should be Included in Declarations of Racism as a Public Health Crisis

Law & Policy InsightsCivic Engagement and VotingMechanisms for Advancing Public Health

December 15, 2021
by Dawn Hunter

Voting is a way to shape the policies that impact how we live our lives – where we can afford to live, whether our neighborhoods are safe, the quality of the school system we send our children to, whether we are paid a living wage, how tax dollars are invested in our communities, and so much more. When a group of people is systematically prevented from fully engaging in the democratic process, the end result is a system that does not reflect the diversity of the peoples and perspectives it serves. Health equity can be advanced by removing barriers to participation in the electoral process, and that starts with acknowledging that those barriers exist. Declarations of racism as a public health crisis are one way to do just that.

Read more

Q&A: Tracking How Voting Impacts Health

FAQCivic Engagement and VotingMechanisms for Advancing Public Health

November 17, 2021
by Dawn Hunter

Voting impacts public health policies ranging from healthcare access to gun control and LGBTQ rights. In this Q&A, Network Southeastern Region Office Director Dawn Hunter discusses the newly launched Health & Democracy Index, which shows measures of health status (individual and population health and other population characteristics, including self-rated health, premature mortality, infant mortality, poverty rates, and community and family safety) relative to the Cost of Voting Index for each state. Dawn also outlines legal and policy strategies to improve voter participation and health. 

View page

Network for Public Health Law Announces New Director of Southeastern Region Office

Network News

June 30, 2021
by Dawn Hunter

The Network is pleased to announce that Dawn Hunter, J.D., M.P.H., will head the Network’s Southeastern Region Office as director, effective July 1, 2021. The position was previously held by Gene Matthews, who will remain on the Network’s leadership team as Principle Investigator. As an experienced legislative analyst and state health department policymaker, Dawn will lead work to examine legislation impacting health and racial equity, and implement strategies to build the capacity of public health agencies and organizations to effectively use law and policy to improve health outcomes of communities across the country. She will also spearhead outreach initiatives with new partner organizations, including the Healthy Democracy Healthy People initiative and the newly formed Racism as a Public Health Crisis Research Collaborative.

Read more