College of
Human
Medicine

Dean's Update | February 19, 2021

Friends,

I hope you and yours are safe and well. Some members of our college have families in the communities hard hit by the most recent winter storm and frigid temperatures, and some of us recall the difficulty of living through prolonged power outages.

The health impacts due to power loss can be hard to track and are often beyond the deaths and injuries documented in the media. As an example, during the Winter Solstice of December 2013, parts of Lansing and East Lansing lost power for up to 10 days. Two of those people were a 90-year-old couple who were patients and neighbors of mine. They lost their heat, and so they took to bed to stay warm, and they stayed in bed, essentially, for the 8-9 days they were without power.

In a lot of ways that was not a bad solution, although they should have gone to a hotel where they could have been up and around with more access to food and water. Eventually, they got dehydrated, and one of them ended up being hospitalized with acute kidney failure. While he survived that hospitalization, his kidneys never really came back, and he passed away a couple of months later. He had survived D-Day, but a Mid-Michigan ice storm, and challenged management, contributed to his death.

I would like to draw your attention to a few opportunities:

  • About 200 of our wonderful alumni have registered with MD CONNECTS, which is an online opportunity for our students and our alumni to unite. Through the connection with alumni, our students will have new opportunities for career exploration, mentoring, career readiness, and regional connections. If you are a graduate of the college or a current medical student, I encourage you to take a moment to sign-up for MD CONNECTS.
  • Chances are you know someone with a rare disease. It’s very scary and hard to find support. This next week, our GRRC researchers, Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital and Calvin University are presenting a free Rare Disease virtual summit Feb. 23-27. These evening and Saturday sessions offer great opportunities to learn about the latest science, speak with clinicians and researchers, and connect with other families experiencing the unique impact that rare diseases have on of their loved ones. Learn more and register here.
  • With stresses from the continued pandemic, families struggling with economic stress or power loss across the country, and the challenges of uncertain times, we continue to have mindfulness pop-up events and support.

As you know, I try to read something different each week related to Black History Month. And this week, I spent time on Pigford v. Glickman. If you have not heard of that case, well dear reader, neither had I. The Pigford case was a lawsuit against the USDA for relatively recent discrimination against Black farmers from 1981 to 1996. This is a case about discrimination 15-30 years after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibited discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex, or national origin.

Fundamentally, the case found that USDA agents had discriminated against Black farmers in denying them loans and programming support. By denying Black farmers loans that were granted to White farmers, the USDA cut off opportunities for new equipment and support for business expansions. The USDA also denied Black farmers insurance payments they were owed, which forced Black farmers to sell their land, usually to White farmers.

This 2019 Guardian piece about John Boyd Jr. is an interesting and short summary of Pigford and Pigford II (additional payments in the 2008 Farm Bill related to the case) as well as the on-going struggles of Black farmers. (The article includes a demoralizing story about how Mr. Boyd currently has a White farmer selling his crop to get a better price.)

During the Obama administration, the USDA did pay out most of the money from the Pigford v. Glickman court case as well as payments to additional affected farmers through Pigford II. It is clear though that Native American, Hispanic, and women farmers were similarly affected, and court cases for these groups were not successful. The USDA claims changes related to Pigford and Pigford II have led to more Blacks in farming; others claim the story is more complicated.

Other than a general knowledge that the USDA had discriminated against farmers who were minorized, I had not read anything meaningful about the subject until this week. I did not know the scale of the problem, nor did I know anything about the controversies about the effectiveness of the solutions. I think reading about Pigford v. Glickman took me down a few different pathways. First, the talent and perseverance of Black farmers who have persisted on the land has to be respected and celebrated. Second, racism and its damage are still so pervasive and persistent. Proving and compensating (at some level) past wrongs does not really set the world right, because even now, 25 years after the misdeeds related to Pigford v. Glickman, Mr. Boyd still has to have a White man sell his crop to get a fair price.

I hope you and yours are warm and safe, and I hope you continue to act to protect others by wearing your mask, spatially distancing, and staying home when you are sick. The data continues to show the vaccines are remarkably safe and effective. If you get the chance, get vaccinated.

Serving the people with you,

Aron

Aron Sousa, MD
Interim Dean