By Ellen Goldbaum
Published May 22, 2023
Almost a year to the day after the May 14 mass shooting in Buffalo, a group of 18 medical students gathered for lunch and conversation in the annex of the Hopewell Baptist Church on Fillmore Avenue. The students from the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences and the College of Human Medicine at Michigan State University were all familiar with the universal struggles that go along with attending medical school. But that wasn’t the only thing they had in common.
Both groups have been affected this past year by mass shootings on or near their campuses. The May 14, 2022, racist massacre occurred 1.5 miles from the Jacobs School; the mass shooting this past Feb. 13 took place on the Michigan State campus.
Clearly, both sets of students will be dealing with similar issues for a long time to come. That fact was obvious to Allison Brashear, MD, MBA, vice president for health sciences and Jacobs School dean, while speaking with Aron Sousa, dean of the MSU College of Human Medicine, at an Association of American Medical Colleges meeting earlier this year.
“Dean Sousa and I have been colleagues for a long time,” Brashear said. “We were attending a talk at the AAMC meeting by Michael Dowling, the CEO of Northwell Health. He was talking about the need to address the nation’s gun violence problem. Michigan State had just had a shooting on campus. We realized that students and faculty at both our institutions were in this very difficult position. We felt that they could learn from, and support, each other.”
That led to the Jacobs School’s decision to invite Michigan State students to the May 14 remembrance events earlier this month in Buffalo, and to MSU’s decision to invite the UB students to events marking the MSU shooting next February in East Lansing.
Kinzer Pointer, pastor of the Agape Fellowship Baptist Church, started off the conversation at Hopewell Baptist. Speaking of the gun violence epidemic in the U.S., he underscored that the magnitude of the problem is uniquely American. “We are alone in this distinction among the nations on earth,” he said.
But he said the day was a special opportunity for the students to come together for “intense fellowship and sharing of thanksgiving.”
Students were joined by two community members and by Brittany Tayler, a faculty member in the Charles Stewart Mott Department of Public Health in the MSU medical school. Jacobs School faculty who participated included Jennifer Meka, PhD, director of the Medical Education and Educational Research Institute (MEERI) and associate dean for medical education; David Milling, MD, senior associate dean for medical education; and Sourav Sengupta, associate professor of psychiatry.
The conversation focused on how the respective communities of the Jacobs School and MSU have responded to the shootings; the strengths, weaknesses and challenges in these communities; the stories and histories that make up the foundation of these communities; and the things that have been especially healing to individuals in the aftermath of these shootings.
Students shared their experiences, including pride and disappointment in how their communities, their institutions and society in general have responded to these shootings.
Shawn Gibson, who just graduated from the Jacobs School, recalled attending a health fair during his first year of medical school. He remembered noticing that as soon as someone at the fair learned something about their health, they shared that information with their cousins or members of their church family. “If someone knows any small bit of information, we’re all just so happy to share it out with everyone else,” he said. “It’s a beautiful thing.”
On the topic of dealing with the aftermath of the shooting and working to heal, Robbie Wideman, one of the community members who attended, noted that she makes an effort every time she’s in the Jefferson Avenue Tops to smile at the workers and tell them how great and clean everything looks. “I always compliment them; they’re the ones who lived through it,” she said. “I always try to give them a reason to smile.”
Michigan State student Jasmeenpreet Kaur discussed her efforts with a classmate to get the school’s curriculum to include and address gun violence, and how part of that process involved learning how to identify faculty members who would be receptive.
Ultimately, many of the points the students mentioned referred to curriculum, a focus that is shared by school leaders. “We want to address how both of our schools are working to combat racism and the public health crisis of gun violence,” said Brashear, who met with the MSU students earlier in the day. “We want to share our work in this area with other schools to accelerate change. Our goal is to build a coalition of schools of medicine that are working to address this public health crisis.”
Later that afternoon, the students attended the UB-sponsored event on racism, racial literacy and mental health held at the Jacobs School.