Confronting gun violence: At MSU-UB Conference, students, faculty gathered with peers to reflect and advocate

L to R: Kerryann Koper standing at podium, Miranda Berkebile and Koulako Kaba are seated.

Jacobs School students Kerryann Koper (at podium) and Miranda Berkebile and Koulako Kaba (seated) presented at the Remembrance Conference. Photo Credit: Bryan Esler

Release Date: February 20, 2024

“Connecting with our peers at MSU and at other medical colleges around this issue is proving to be a source of inspiration for all of us. ”
David A. Milling, MD, executive director of the Office of Medical Education and senior associate dean for medical education
Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences

BUFFALO, N.Y. – A year after a mass shooting on the Michigan State University campus in East Lansing left three people dead and five injured, its College of Human Medicine hosted the inaugural MSU-University at Buffalo Remembrance Conference.

The exchange between the two schools began last May in Buffalo at a gathering of UB and MSU faculty and students hosted at the annex of the Hopewell Baptist Church on Fillmore Avenue. The MSU group had traveled to Buffalo to support the UB community as the city observed memorials marking a year since the racist massacre at the Tops supermarket in May 2022 killed 10 people and injured three.

The idea for an exchange between the schools and a remembrance conference was sparked by a conversation that happened last year between Allison Brashear, MD, vice president for health sciences and dean of the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at UB, and Aron Sousa, dean of the MSU College of Human Medicine.

They were attending an Association of American Medical Colleges talk on gun violence. In the past year, both of their campuses had been affected by gun violence. They realized the shared tragedies also created an opportunity where students at both medical schools could learn from and support one another.

The goal of last week’s conference was to invite students and faculty from medical schools throughout the U.S. to focus on how to reduce firearm injuries and deaths through a public health approach. Participants from over a dozen medical schools attended. Attendees engaged with national trauma experts and worked on advocacy skills with elected officials. MSU coverage of the conference is at this link.

UB will host the next remembrance conference in Buffalo in May 2025.

“Connecting with our peers at MSU and at other medical colleges around this issue is proving to be a source of inspiration for all of us,” says David A. Milling, executive director of the Office of Medical Education and senior associate dean for medical education in the Jacobs School.

Medical students today are well aware that gun violence is a reality they will confront from their first days in hospital rotations, something that many of their mentors didn’t experience so early in their careers.

Ubiquitous in our culture

“Gun violence is ubiquitous in our culture,” says Kerryann Koper, a Jacobs School MD candidate in the Class of 2026 who attended the conference. “It is something I have already seen repeatedly in the field, in the emergency room, on the hospital floors. It is something I’ll continue to see well into my career.”

Her motivation for attending was to learn from peers and to develop a deeper understanding of the impact of gun violence and how to address it.

“Lectures and papers can only prepare you so much for the emotional and physical toll of caring for patients who are victims of gun violence,” she adds. “At some point you need to form a community.”

That urge to connect with others in order to address the problem more effectively was mentioned as one of the best things students took away from the conference.

Miranda Berkebile, a Jacobs School candidate in the Class of 2026, notes, “Gun violence is unfortunately an aspect of health care we will see throughout our careers, regardless of specialty. Learning from each other in regards to prevention, management and rebuilding makes our individual community stronger, as well as health care as a whole.”

At the conference, teams of medical students and faculty discussed how their schools could engage students and community members in the effort. And in a direct reflection of the importance of community, members of the Jacobs School team were honored to have Pastor Kinzer Pointer, pastor of Buffalo’s Liberty Missionary Baptist Church, attend the conference with them. Pointer had helped lead the conversations in Buffalo last May. At MSU last week, he led a luminary lighting where people were able to share their personal experiences and reflections.

Collective remembrance

The collective experience of remembering these tragedies together was for many attendees a critical aspect of the conference.

“Participating in a remembrance ceremony for victims of gun violence holds profound significance, driven by a collective need to honor the lives lost, advocate for change and find solace in community support,” says Koulako Kaba, a Jacobs School MD candidate, Class of 2026. “The stark reality of lives cut short by senseless acts of violence prompts deep introspection and underscores the urgency of addressing this pervasive issue. To me, remembrance ceremonies offer a space for healing, as well as a space to call for sensible gun control measures, violence prevention initiatives and support for affected communities, a way to initiate meaningful action to prevent future tragedies.

“Ultimately, the decision to attend a remembrance for victims of gun violence is driven by a desire to honor, remember and celebrate the lives of those lost, while also advocating for meaningful change as a collective. It’s a testament to the resilience of the human spirit and the power of solidarity in the face of adversity.”

Berkebile says the conference shined a light on specific consequences of gun violence, such as the fact that gun violence is the leading cause of pediatric deaths in the U.S. At the same time, she says, coming together with others who are focused on addressing the issue was critical. “Hearing about the steps other institutions have made to address this problem and educate their student population gave us ideas for future events in our community,” she says.

Koper adds: “What the Remembrance Conference taught me is that while it’s personal, there is a nationwide community of physicians, students, therapists and social workers among others that know what this battle entails and who are willing to fight in the spirit of remembrance and honor.

“As a future physician, it’s an honor to be surrounded by people like those who attended the conference. I hope to incorporate even tiny bits of their resilience, their lessons and their passion into my everyday life.”

Also attending from the Jacobs School were Anyango Kamina, assistant dean for student development and academic enhancement; Sourav Sengupta, associate professor of psychiatry; and Julie Szrama, student and academic affairs coordinator.

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