MSU student's idea sparks weeklong event
After a violent demonstration on the University of Virginia campus in Charlottesville took place in August, an idea began taking shape in Chrissiey Jackson’s mind.
“After the Charlottesville incident, I asked my peers how they felt about what was going on,” said Jackson, a second-year Michigan State University College of Human Medicine student. “As an institution, we needed to deal with it.”
She emailed her concerns to Wanda Lipscomb, senior associate dean for diversity and inclusion and associate dean for student affairs in the medical college. Other students also began approaching Lipscomb, suggesting the college needed to do something in response.
As a result, Celebrating Unity and Connections week was born and has now become the college’s effort to help its students of different ethnic, economic and cultural backgrounds share their personal stories and find common ground.
“We want our focus in the college not to be on what divides us, what separates us, but on what unites us,” Lipscomb said. “What are some of the common values that bring students to the College of Human Medicine?”
Lipscomb, along with College of Human Medicine Dean Norman Beauchamp Jr., Senior Associate Dean Aron Sousa, Associate Dean Dianne Wagner and Assistant Dean Judith Brady, as well as others, took the students’ concerns to heart.
Beauchamp said it was an opportunity to reinforce the college’s long-standing commitment to diversity and inclusion, Beauchamp said.
During the week of Sept. 11-17, first- and second-year students and faculty in East Lansing and Grand Rapids gathered during lunch over four days to talk about their common values in a small-group setting. The week concluded with an outdoor barbecue in East Lansing on Saturday and a potluck dinner in Grand Rapids on Sunday, with students bringing dishes representing their ethnic heritage.
“I think it was a huge event,” Beauchamp said. “It was huge, because our students come from different backgrounds, but they all share a common purpose: caring for all patients and treating them with dignity.”
On Wednesday, Beauchamp, Sousa and Lipscomb addressed all students on both campuses through a video link assuring them that they share their concerns. Students also broke into small groups and discussed the college’s mission statement, its Virtuous Professional Policy and the oath all first-year students take.
Together, the documents emphasize the key character traits for physicians, including courage, humility and mercy, and the importance of treating all people with dignity and inclusion while responding to the needs of the medically underserved.
The students then offered their personal reflections on why they wanted to become physicians.
“One of the most important things about it was everybody had a chance to speak,” said Carlos Damas, a second-year student. “Once you got into it, you realized everyone has a story.”
Damas is from a low-income, Latino neighborhood in Los Angeles. Although he was born in this country, his parents, who are now legal residents, were undocumented immigrants from El Salvador. When he was sick, his parents often delayed taking him to the doctor, fearing they would be deported, he said.
“I think everyone has their struggles,” Damas said. “One of the best things I was able to find out was that everyone in our school has a passion for helping.”
Although his background was much different, second-year student Aaron Burghgraef, shares Damas’ passion. The Wednesday event, Burghgraef said, reinforced his determination never to become too comfortable in his own bubble.
“I tell people that I’m comfortable being uncomfortable,” Burghgraef said. “We all ended up at the same place, but we took different routes to get here. We can still find commonality with others.”
Lipscomb said this message will be reinforced with activities throughout the year, and Celebrating Unity and Connections Week likely will become an annual event.
“I think it made people think a little deeper about what it means to be unified and serve different people,” Jackson said. “I feel pretty good about it, and I feel it could not have been completed if we didn’t have a group of students who were open to it.”