Dean's Update

January 13, 2023 - Aron Sousa, MD

Dean Aron Sousa with text overlay "Dean's Update"


Martin Luther King Jr. Day is this coming Monday. As part of the community’s celebration, Fred Gray is the featured guest at the 38th Annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Commission of Mid-Michigan’s event at the Lansing Center this Monday. As a young attorney, Mr. Gray represented Rosa Parks after her arrest for not moving to the back of the Montgomery bus she was riding. He argued numerous civil rights cases and was one of the first Black men elected to the Alabama legislature post Reconstruction.

Mr. Gray also represented the victims of the Tuskegee Syphilis Study in a class action lawsuit against the federal government. There is much to be read about the study. And, as we think about racism and injustice in medicine, consider this point. The study was out in the open and the investigators regularly published their findings in mainstream medical journals. Doctors and scientists all over saw these papers for years but did not see the injustice. And that is a lesson: the presence of abuse and injustice is not hidden, it is unseen.

This lesson will be familiar to those who witnessed the Flint Water Crisis or the Nassar scandal. The information is around, but people do not notice or believe what they see and hear. Similarly, the abuses of women by the Taliban or in Iran are known, but like the mythical frog in a pot of hot water, we are so inured to the injustice against half of species that raising the ire to action is too much delta G for us to overcome. People like Mr. Gray provide hope there are enough of us who really see and really listen.

Health inequity across many populations is one of the manifestations of injustice so many have found shocking. Health inequity is not hidden, yet it persists. Many of our faculty are engaged in identifying and addressing the root causes of health inequity. One of those faculty is neurologist  Larry Charleston IV, MD. He has been investigating why Black Americans have worse outcomes in epilepsy, stroke, Parkinson’s disease, dementia, and headache. He has found the underlying disparity issues, like access, poverty, and unemployment, are deeply linked to historic racism in our country. As an example, for most of the last century federally designed and locally enforced redlining in Michigan was a systemically racist system limiting the wealth of Black families for generations. In East Lansing, redlining was not hidden, it just was not seen. Systemic limitation in homeownership limits wealth in families and perpetuates poverty and limited access for generations.

Many of you know our students have been struggling with the changes in the university’s financial aid system. The people in Student Affairs and Academic Affairs have been working with the university to prevent the issues that bedeviled us at the start of the last three semesters. The team at MSU Financial Aid were in the office on New Year’s Eve, a university holiday, manually checking the status of professional students from the colleges of Law, Human Medicine, Osteopathic Medicine, and Veterinary Medicine to make sure students received their aid.

We are still following the data, but it looks like the vast majority of the college’s students who applied for and accepted their aid have been processed correctly and on time. Through the remarkable effort of people in the colleges, registrar’s office, and financial aid office, our students are getting the support they need and that they received two years ago. If the students did their part, it appears the university did theirs. The college’s staff cannot see any student financial aid files, so we do not know if there is a problem unless students tell us. Please contact Student Affairs if you have an issue with your financial aid.

Finally, and after all the above has been put to bed, on Thursday evening I write with tragic news. Today, or some yesterday for you, we lost Kate Lax to a brain tumor. This is crushing me. Kate worked in our advancement office, and when I became interim dean, the first time in 2015, Kate was the only person we had in advancement. She and I worked on the Grand Rapids Research Center, and on scholarships, and tried to get our heads around the work of the Flint Water Crisis among many other projects. Kate was always there, always working, always positive, always game. She was wonderful! More than us, and catch me here as I struggle, she is lost to her three-year old daughter, Evelynn, and her husband, Dave. We have known this was coming, but still…. I took a walk this evening looking for solace in the deepest shade of blue, present only in the night sky and the wings of a few butterflies. Tonight, the sky was cloud covered, blocking me from that transcendent color and the view of Saturn and then Jupiter soon to set in the west. Still, I know that lovely color found in the night sky and also on butterfly wings, and I know those planets, and I know Kate.

Serving the people with you, Kate.


Aron Sousa, MD, FACP


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