College of
Human
Medicine

Dean's Update | October 16

Friends,

Autumn has clearly come to Michigan. The sun is lower in the sky, the days are shorter, the clouds more plentiful. But when the sun does peek through the clouds, the trees are dazzling. Autumn is one of the serious seasons but with beauty and occasional playfulness (compare and contrast).

During the sunny morning this week, I walked around campus and enjoyed the air and the trees. Some of those trees have interesting known stories, like the 70 year-old dawn redwoods, and some trees, like the huge white oaks, require more imagination to consider their stories. Over the centuries I know that at least a few people like me have appreciated those trees and wondered at the astonishing horizontal limbs of the white oaks. One of the joys I take from old trees and wandering through natural landscapes is thinking about the people who long ago also looked on them with similar appreciation. 

We know there were many people on this land for thousands of years. An 1857 map documents an “Indian Encampment” at the site of Erickson Hall on the southside of the Red Cedar as the university held its first classes. That means when the state “granted” the land to the university, it was giving away land that native people lived on. The land of the university and of those, like me, who live in East Lansing are on land of the of the Anishinaabeg (the Three Fires Confederacy of the Ojibwe, Odawa and Potawatomi). The country took this land 201 years ago in the 1819 Treaty of Saginaw, and that makes the concept of the “land grant” much more complicated for me than it used to be.

The state of Michigan celebrated Indigenous Peoples’ Day last Monday. To raise awareness and understanding, one of our own students, MS2 Kiana Wood of the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians, published an excellent piece about health disparities, a little epigenetics, and how COVID-19 has disproportionately hurt Native American communities. I love to read what our people write in the public sphere – this is part of how we advance the public good.

As autumn progresses, the election is just around the corner, and we are encouraging people to vote (!) and working on how to handle this very polarizing election. Prior to the election we are offering sessions to help faculty better facilitate difficult discussions in small group courses. Our culture of caring team has been offering small groups for faculty and staff and will continue these by request. For our after-the-election sessions, we will focus on how to work with, communicate with, and care for people with beliefs and politics different from our own. It will be a shared opportunity for growth as professionals and as people. We are a medical school and we will have to continue patient care, medical education, and discovery work in teams and in communities that do not always share the same political viewpoints. This is an emotional time, and we will have to take care of each other and focus on the professional work of patient care and education in trying circumstances.

Wear your mask, spatially distance, get a flu shot, wash your hands, and take care of each other.

Serving the people with you,

Aron

Aron Sousa, MD
Interim Dean