Understanding the architecture of power

EJ Juarez
EJ Juarez

“I have never asked myself, ‘What do I want to be?’ I’ve asked myself, ‘What do I want to do?’” said EJ Juarez, a 2013 Master of Arts in Cultural Studies graduate who now is the public policy manager for Group Health Foundation, a philanthropic organization.

When he decided to pursue the master’s degree at the University of Washington Bothell, Juarez was working to expand public assistance programs at Solid Ground, a Seattle-based charity committed to ending poverty.

“I wanted to recognize how power moved, to understand how identities were constructed and how that formation of identity and the architecture around power was organized to keep people where they are,” Juarez said.

Why UW Bothell

The Cultural Studies programming gave him the framework for action.

“I wanted a program that would help me support my community’s aspirations and change the world, and that’s why I chose this program,” he said. “It was unapologetic about its focus on putting theory into practice.

“The thing I really learned is that the structures you don’t get to see are the structures that are most often hardest to impact and the most important to change and move. And those are the things I’ve dedicated my career to deconstructing,” he said, mentioning race, class and ability.

Associate Professor Susan Harewood, Professor Ron Krabill and Teaching Professor Julie Shayne were huge influences, Juarez said. “I try to find excuses to talk to them to learn from them still.”

The MACS program “helped me focus on what I wanted to spend my time doing,” he said. “It helped me realize I had the ability to organize my life around exactly what I wanted.”


UW Bothell lessons have guided a career in political and social advocacy and public service.

After Solid Ground, Juarez worked as executive director of Progressive Majority, a multi-state political organization, where he recruited people of color, LGBTQ people and women to run for office at various levels.

In another job as partnerships and government relations manager at the Seattle Public Library, he looked for ways to build digital and cultural equity.

Juarez also currently serves as vice chair of the King County Elections Oversight Committee, which advises the elections director. Previously, he served on the boards of the Washington State Commission on Judicial Conduct and the Washington State Commission on Hispanic Affairs.

Those roles are important for him, he said, as someone whose family has included teachers, military veterans and other public servants.


In his job at Group Health Foundation, Juarez guides political and public policy work at the state and federal levels, working on issues such as voting rights, public assistance and health disparities.

The foundation was funded in 2017 after Kaiser Permanente acquired Group Health Cooperative. Not affiliated with any health care provider, the social welfare organization is interested in health equity and the social determinants of health. It has assets of about $2 billion.

“We believe that health is more than what happens in a doctor’s office. It is access to education, freedom from economic and racial violence, clean air and water, and the ability to participate and share in the responsibility of governance,” Juarez said. “Communities most impacted by inequity know best how to solve them, and we are choosing to invest our grant-making in those solutions.”

The foundation invested in the measure on the Washington ballot last year that would have removed barriers to affirmative action in public education, employment and contracting, Juarez said. The foundation also supports undocumented people being able to access public funds during the coronavirus pandemic.


One of the founders of the advisory board for the School of Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences and a member of the IAS Hall of Excellence, Juarez on Nov. 12 will lead a UW Bothell What If…? Conversation, one of a series of interactive teleconferences to share expertise from members of the campus community.

Juarez will discuss how we might think differently about public spaces and institutions. For example, books aren’t the whole story about libraries.

“They’re a place where people are seeing and interacting with other people, where they are learning a skill, where they are finding their own imagination,” he said. “I am interested in the design of those spaces and the impact of that on our democracy and society.”

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