A Columbia University professor was suspended last week after sharing a controversial tweet about a dark-skinned model.
Dr. Jeffrey A. Lieberman, considered one of the leading psychiatrists in the country, was removed from his position as department chair after he called Nyakim Gatwech, an Ethiopian-born American model, “a freak of nature.” Gatwech has achieved significant popularity on social media and is often referred to as the “Queen of Darkness” for her dark complexion.
“Whether a work of art or freak of nature she’s a beautiful sight to behold,” professor Lieberman wrote in response to a photo of the model.
The New York Times reported that Dr. Lieberman’s Twitter account has since been deactivated. The professor has also resigned from his position as executive director of the New York State Psychiatric Institute.
Dr. Lieberman, who has spent decades researching schizophrenia and other mental disorders, apologized for the tweet, saying he was “deeply ashamed” of his “prejudices and stereotypical assumptions.”
For years, the field of psychiatry pathologized and even demonized people of color. A 2008 report in the journal Psychiatric Services also revealed that Black patients are less likely than white patients to receive proper medication for depression.
Dr. Lieberman’s tweet has shaken up social media and the US psychiatric community, as it seemingly reinforces the stigma surrounding dark skin. The comment was particularly troubling for many, since Gatwech works to “challenge beauty standards that favor lighter skin tones.”
“We condemn the racism and sexism reflected in Dr. Lieberman’s tweet and acknowledge and share the hurt, sadness, confusion, and distressing emotions you may be feeling,” the new acting director of the New York State Psychiatric Institute, Thomas Smith, said.