Columbia Psychiatry Chair Suspended Over 'Freak of Nature' Tweet About Black Model

Jeffrey Lieberman's tweet called racist
By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 24, 2022 1:30 AM CST
Columbia Psychiatry Chair Suspended Over 'Freak of Nature' Tweet About Black Model
A man is dwarfed by the Columbia University Library as he sits outside the building, Saturday, Feb. 25, 2012, in New York.   (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

The chair of Columbia University's psychiatry department was suspended Wednesday after a tweet describing a dark-skinned model as either "a work of art or freak of nature." Jeffrey Lieberman on Monday retweeted a photo of model Nyakim Gatwech, who is of South Sudanese descent, that included the original poster's caption, Newsweek reports: "It is not a work of art made of black stone or granite. She is Sudanese model Nyakim Gatwech. The most beautiful among the black beauties." To that Lieberman added his own caption, per the New York Times: "Whether a work of art or freak of nature she’s a beautiful sight to behold." Lieberman's Twitter account is no longer available.

The tweet caused a massive outcry online, including from other Black women and medical professionals who wondered how such a prominent psychiatrist could think that language was acceptable (though the Times delves into the profession's long history of race issues). Before the university suspended him, Lieberman first offered what NewsOne calls a "non-apology" (deleting the tweet and saying he was "living and learning") before apologizing to his colleagues via email and saying he was "deeply ashamed" of the "racist and sexist" tweet. "I’ve hurt many, and I am beginning to understand the work ahead to make needed personal changes and over time to regain your trust," he wrote.

Lieberman, who is considered one of the US' top psychiatrists, was also permanently booted from his position as psychiatrist-in-chief at Columbia University Irving Medical Center/NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, and he stepped down as executive director of the New York State Psychiatric Institute. The original tweet Lieberman retweeted also falsely claimed Gatwech's skin was certified by the Guinness Book of World Records as the darkest on earth, and she responded to the incident herself on Instagram. Guinness "does NOT monitor skin tones. I can’t imagine it’s even possible to know who’s the lightest or darkest person on the planet!" she wrote alongside a screenshot of Lieberman's tweet. (More Columbia University stories.)

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