College of
Human
Medicine

Dean's Update | June 26

Friends,

There is so much going on in the college, it is hard to know where to start an update. I met with students from the Student National Medical Association (SNMA) this week. They shared some remarkable and distressing experiences our minority students have faced at our college. Some of these events happened in clinics we send students to and some involved faculty in our classrooms.

We must stop these racist encounters through education, communication, and removing people. In fact, I am relieved to note that we no longer use one of the clinics where there was a problem, and likewise, one of the offending faculty is no longer with the college. That said, there is still work to do.

Some of that work is in the curriculum, and the Council of Diversity in Education (CODE) under the joint leadership of Interim Senior Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, Dianne Wagner, and Senior Associate Dean for Diversity and Inclusion, Wanda Lipscomb. CODE is a group of students and educators who meet to discover and improve areas in the curriculum that could better address issues of diversity, inclusion, and equity.

This week Dr. Lipscomb and I are initiating two new groups specifically designed to help improve equity, inclusion, and diversity in the college. The first is the Dean’s Advisory Committee on Diversity (DACD). Similar to the Dean’s Student Advisory Committee and the Dean’s Staff Advisory Committee, the DACD will be composed of elected college members who provide feedback and advice to the dean.

In the case of the DACD, we would expect feedback and advice to be guided by affinity groups within and connected to the DACD that focus on traditional areas of inequity including race, sex, religion, and ethnicity as well as other areas needing focus like disability, sexual orientation, gender, etc. It is our plan that the DACD be enshrined in the college bylaws in the fall.

We are continuing design work on a second DEI group, which will include members of the college, our community, alumni, and other stakeholders to provide a larger context and community communication with the college. I believe this group will be particularly important as CHM, the pioneer community-based medical school, takes on societal issues and works to help communities in Michigan, the country, and the world.

Across the nation, the world, and our very own community, COVID-19 cases are increasing. Since cases are expanding in places that were not hard hit by the virus in April and May, this is a continuation of the first wave and coincides with the relaxation of social distancing efforts. It is especially concerning to see the percentage of positive tests begin to increase, because that suggests the rate of infections is increasing independent of any expansion in testing. There are states with increases in hospitalizations, which is another sign that this is meaningfully worse and not just an increase in diagnoses or case finding. Houston seems to be on the brink of real trouble.

Closer to home, there is genuine concern about inadequate spatial distancing and lack of mask usage in downtown East Lansing. Most telling and concerning is an outbreak centered around a bar in East Lansing. Large numbers of people gathered, did not take precautions, did not act effectively to prevent transmission of SARS-CoV2, and, the predictable happened. Now, people who went to Harper’s between June 12 and 20th are asked by the Ingham County Health Department to self-quarantine for 14 days. We are not the only campus with these issues.

It’s important to realize that most of our communities have not had a first wave of COVID-19 yet. Seriously, if we do not spatial distance and wear masks, cases will climb and then hospitalizations and deaths will increase. I don’t think I am alone in thinking that we want to avoid this. I implore you, STAY SIX FEET APART and WEAR A MASK!

Surely it cannot be so hard for people to imagine that they should protect each other. This applies to racism, sexism, discrimination of all sorts. The basic, simple concept of the Golden Rule should prevail. Eventually, we will be faced with choosing between mounting deaths or returning to the economic shutdowns we saw in the spring. If we don’t get our shit together, we cannot have nice things.

As COVID-19 cases increase, and as more people are approved to return to the workplace, I want to remind people how we will handle cases in our buildings and college, and we do expect there to be cases as long as the virus is circulating in our communities.

When we have a case, we will follow university procedures and work with the University Physician and the local county health authorities to help identify and notify contacts. If you have had clinically meaningful contact (usually more than 15 minutes) with someone with COVID-19, you will be notified. Consistent with the university, we will use this contact tracing as notification rather than blanket announcements of cases in emails or online.

I would like to take a moment to thank Francesca Dwamena for her time and dedication as our Chair of Medicine since 2012. She has been a key leader in the college, guided the department, helped lead growth, and supported new research efforts. She is excited to move on to an international project next winter. We will miss having her as chair, but I’m happy for her as her excitement for this next work is clearly evident. This week and over the next couple of weeks, I am meeting with the department’s committees to discuss how to handle a leadership transition and search. I hope to have a plan in the next couple of weeks.

And, in the good news category, I want to celebrate rising MS4 Mauricio “Jimmy” Franco for being a 2020 Inclusion Award Honoree for his work in the group Queering Medicine. It is always grounding and heartening to see the great work our students do. We are fortunate to have activists and leaders like Jimmy in the college. They serve the people and give us hope.

Serving the people with you,

Aron

Aron Sousa, MD
Interim Dean