Dean's Update

February 3, 2023 - Aron Sousa, MD


Over the persistent thrum of another dozen mass shootings this week, Tyre Nichols died in an extrajudicial killing at the hands, feet, and batons of policemen. In her comments to University Council this week, I was struck by Dr. Karen Kelly-Blake’s observation that the injustice in racism is defined by who has been hurt and not by who carried out the injustice. Intent is not required for a system to be racist, and people do not have be to “racists” to perpetuate racist acts.

Our great struggle is with systems that encourage or even just allow racism. (See also the Tuskegee Syphilis Study and some of the people who worked with those involved.) The proof is in the outcomes, in the mistreatment, and in the deaths. Black people are more likely to be killed by police, and to the point of Tyre Nichols’ mother, “And what they’re doing to the Black communities is wrong. We’re not worried about the race of the police officer. We’re worried about the conduct of the police officers.”

There is a common path to this kind of violence by policemen but less frequently policewomen. An armed, often alienated group of men (White or Black or any race) scare us and scare police. Various people, some self-serving, claim a return to law and order will result from more aggressive policing and “wars” on crime or drugs. Parts of police culture internalize this warrior stance and organize itself into “crime prevention units” like the Memphis police department’s “SCORPION” unit. The acronym of the unit clearly tells you the designers were not thinking primarily about serving and protecting residents. Even the general concept of this kind of unit needs to be rethought and redesigned.

As it happens, this week a group of us from the college visited Team Wellness Center, an agency in Detroit that, among a great deal of other important work, pairs health care providers to ride with police to help deescalate situations involving residents with health issues. I don’t want to imply or make any claims about what might or might not have helped avoid the killing of Mr. Nichols, but this kind of partnership between health and police could make the lives of police and residents better and safer.

The struggles of our society will not be solved by one group of people or one institution, but we can improve the lives of those with whom we work. Over the last few months, I have written a good deal about the college’s 1964 Project, which is a new college effort to bring in faculty who will advance our scholarship in diversity, equity, and inclusion and help address the health equity grand challenge in the CHM Strategic Plan. In the middle of last month, right on time, the review committee ranked the proposals, and this week we agreed on budgets and are initiating the searches stemming from the two proposals with the best scores.

The first project, submitted by the Department of Translational Neuroscience in collaboration with our Center for Bioethics and Social Justice and the Charles Stewart Mott Department of Public Health, is entitled, “Establishing a program to study health disparities in Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias.” This effort will bridge the bench science occurring in Translational Neuroscience with community-based participatory research bringing particular attention to the Hispanic community in West Michigan. Readers of the update with sharp eyes and memory will recall that Irving Vega, PhD, a Red Cedar Distinguished Faculty, has been doing ground breaking work in this community for years. Obviously, this application capitalized on that existing work.

The other funded 1964 Project position, in Family Medicine with support from Henry Ford and the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics among others, is entitled, “Middle East and North African Community Researcher” and will emphasize health equity issues of this population focused in Southeast Michigan. The department already has faculty working with these populations here and abroad.

Efforts like the 1964 Project depend on a group of faculty and staff who make actual outcomes happen in the college. One of those key people is Brad Kline. I want to formally announce Brad as the college’s new Chief Financial Officer. Brad has a long history of excellent work in the finance office, and he has carried an increased load as we traversed staff changes during the development of the OHS financial team. Brad will carry on the great work of Karen Crosby, who was our CFO for many years until taking a similar role in OHS. It has taken a while for the HR designations to catch up with the way work has been done, so it is great to recognize Brad for the work and leadership he gives us all. Please welcome Brad to this new role!

Serving the people with you,


Aron Sousa, MD FACP



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