College of

Dean's Update | May 31


The events of the last few months have put into stark relief the disproportionate health and safety risks to African Americans in this country. You know the recent list: COVID-19 mortality, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd. If only the list would stop there: Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Rodney King, Jackson State…Emmett Till, lynching, slavery, Middle Passage, colonialism. It is emotionally difficult to contemplate and exhausting and debilitating for those who live with ongoing threats to health and life every day.

I cannot understate the importance of the racial disparities in mortality and morbidity from the COVID-19 pandemic. We are talking about thousands of people who have died disproportionately – that is a horror. We already knew the life costs of racism and governmental failure from the Flint Water Crisis and the disparate life expectancy based on zip code. We have the data on racial disparities in maternal and child mortality. There is no meaningful mystery as to cause and effect here, nor is our moral obligation to help each other in question. Doing well on these kinds of outcomes is how we know if a county is on the path to greatness. If your people are not surviving, you are doing something very wrong.

The only solace and hope I find is the path of those who came before us. The 1955 death of Emmett Till helped stimulate the Montgomery bus boycott and invigorate the civil rights movement and the leadership of Martin Luther King Jr. The reason there are more African Americans in politics, academics, leadership, and medical school now compared to 1950, stems from the work of those who were inspired to, or exhausted into, action.

King famously said, “the moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” The arc does not bend on its own; there is no magic at play here. The arc only bends through the effort of those with courage, good will, and the understanding that our work can change lives for the better.

Changing lives for the better is why we go into medicine and changing lives for the better is why we are the College of Human Medicine. There are many ways to make lives better. Some will do that by helping one other person at a time in clinical care. Some will do that through advocacy, politics, or education. Some will do that through science and finding new solutions, or demonstrating the best use of old solutions.

It was comforting and uplifting to listen in to the Saturday and Sunday Diversity Dialog sessions hosted by the college’s Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, organized by Senior Associate Dean for Diversity and Inclusion, Dr. Wanda Lipscomb, and Assistant Dean for Diversity and Inclusion, Dr. Lisa Lowery. More than 150 people participated in either the Saturday and Sunday diversity dialogues from the college. The stories, fear, pain, and inspiration shared in these video sessions made these events some of the best I have ever attended.

The events of the last week point to the need for solutions. We cannot condone violence. And last night’s violence after the peaceful protests in Grand Rapids and today in East Lansing saddened me for our community. But we cannot let violence distract us from the rainbow of good will of those who peacefully protested in our communities, including those who shared the street with police in Flint. I am relieved to report that no one in the college was physically harmed, and members of the college have done wonderful and courageous work in downtown Grand Rapids. I want to thank Brian Jespersen, Jeff Murphy, and Justin Arnold for their dedication and hard work. Safety is my wish for all of us.

I live with white privilege and have my whole life. If you have not, I and others like me, are here to listen and look to you as how to best help now. We will do our part to educate ourselves on the issues. We can also all reach out, express kindness and love, support. We need to make sure everyone knows that they are never alone at the College of Human Medicine. The staff, faculty, and students of the college stand with everyone who struggles personally or struggles for justice.

Serving the people with you,

Aron Sousa, MD
Interim Dean