Dean's Update

February 16, 2024 - Aron Sousa, MD

From the right: Paster Kinzer Pointer and Andrea Wendling view remembrance luminaries at the conference.
From the right: Paster Kinzer Pointer and Andrea Wendling view remembrance luminaries at the conference.


Starting on Sunday evening, teams of students and faculty from nine medical schools and the AAMC gathered at the Kellogg Hotel & Conference Center for the Remembrance Conference focused on a public health approach to address the epidemic of firearm violence. The conference was hosted by the College of Human Medicine and the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences of the University at Buffalo in collaboration with the AAMC. The conference was more successful than I could have hoped.

The idea for the conference came out of a conversation I had with Allison Brashear, MD, MBA, dean of the Jacobs School, during the AAMC’s Council of Deans conference last March. After a session on Northwell Health’s approach to gun violence, I talked with Allison about the shooting deaths and injuries on the Michigan State campus a month earlier. Allison told me about the upcoming remembrance of the 2022 Tops Supermarket shooting in East Buffalo. We decided that our college would send a group of students and faculty to Buffalo for their remembrance in May 2023, and then Jacobs would send a delegation of students and faculty to East Lansing in February 2024 for the one-year remembrance on campus. After our visit to Buffalo, we expanded that student exchange concept to include more schools, and the idea of the conference took shape. Our goal is to foster teams of students and faculty who will, over the long term, provide the leadership that pulls this country to a better place, a place where guns are not the number one killer of children and where “run, hide, fight” is not ingrained in student life.

Remembrance is powerful. We take in life as moments in time and space filtered rapidly through our prior experiences, but we build and revise our understanding of those moments through our remembrance. When we share remembrances with each other, we help build humanity out of our lives. In that way remembrance is deeply meaningful and synthetic. While science and data should always be the basis of public health work, remembrance and experience provide impendence and clarity to our work.

Our students, led by the team leading our chapter of SAFE (Scrubs Addressing the Firearm Epidemic), were magnificent. Jasman Kaur, MS4, a co-founder of our SAFE chapter, served on the conference organizing committee. Chapter co-founder Ty Sadilek, MS4, rising chapter leader, Sam Shook, MS2, and Jasman presented on SAFE as a national organization with founder Col. (ret) Dean Winslow, MD. They were joined later in the conference by Dylan Bilicki, Sebastian Loonen, Ibukunoluwa Omole, and Monica Hill in presenting gun violence related scholarship, curricular work, and advocacy by the college’s SAFE and Student National Medical Association chapters.

The whole conference went as smoothly and efficiently as anyone could hope thanks to our staff running the conference, including Amy Fowler and Quinn Kroll. The event planning and staffing were led by Lisa Galbavi, who was and is simply awesome. We had some spectacular sessions, including  one by our own Michigan State Prevent 2 Predict, Drs. Alyse Ley and Frank Straub. Our plenary speakers (Roger Mitchell, MD, and Annie Andrews, MD) were brilliant and inspiring. Denny Martin, DO, chief medical officer of Sparrow, and Ben Mosher, MD (’96), Sparrow’s medical director of trauma services, spoke emotionally and eloquently on the experience of Sparrow providers during the night of the shooting. Mark Brieve, of our government relations team, designed and organized a remarkable session on advocacy with a panel of experts and seven Michigan legislators. And, at the heart of the conference was the remembrance ceremony for the conference participants themselves, led and organized by Julie Szrama of the Jacobs School. We made luminaries decorated with our own remembrances of people in our lives lost to gun violence. On Monday evening, we lit the luminaries accompanied by music and poetry.

As to my remembrances, we lost Arielle Anderson, Alexandria Verner, and Brian Fraser to gun violence here on campus one year ago. In 2009, our college lost a student, Lisa Weber, to suicide by gun. And, more than our recent losses on campus, and more than the two friends I lost to a shooting in 1985, Lisa is who I remember.

At the time, I was the senior associate dean for academic affairs, and Lisa had just entered her third year here on our Lansing campus. She was a lovely person, and she was a solid student, who might have had a couple of struggles leading up to Step 1, but she was doing fine. On a Wednesday in mid-July, she went home for lunch, saw that she failed Step 1 by a point, got out her gun, and with her computer open to the email notifying her of her failure, took her own life. To this day, I am convinced that if someone had been with her for just 30 minutes, she would have understood that failing Step 1 would not impede her dreams. But on her own, she could not see past the computer screen. People without mental health disorders do commit suicide, and it can be very hard to stop them when they have effective means, like a gun.

Back then, nearly all students got their scores back in the third week of July. After Lisa’s death, I called the NMBE, and they agreed to give schools three hours’ notice that someone had failed, so we could make sure they were not alone. The testing rules and times have made that much more difficult to manage now, but to this day, our college tries to make sure students are not alone when they get bad news.

I put Lisa’s name on a luminary, as well as the names of my high school friends, Ethan Dixon and Kim Dowell. The names of those lost ones, and my remembrance of them as people, are somewhere in that long line of luminaries in the picture. Pastor Kinzer Pointer of Buffalo gave a loving tribute and thoughtful exploration of the meanings of “enough” before leading us across the room to see the luminaries. As he began to walk by and look at the individual luminaries, we all followed.

Serving the people with you,


Aron Sousa, MD, FACP
Dean, Michigan State University College of Human Medicine

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