Columbia University’s psychiatry department head has been suspended after he tweeted a photo of a dark-skinned model and commented on her skin color, referring to her as a “freak of nature.”
Jeffrey Lieberman shared the tweet about model Nyakim Gatwech, who is of South Sudanese descent, writing: “Whether a work of art or freak of nature she’s a beautiful sight to behold.”
He was suspended Wednesday as psychiatry department chair at Columbia’s Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons and also removed as psychiatrist-in-chief at Columbia University Irving Medical Center/NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, according to an email sent to Columbia faculty and staff that was shared with NBC News.
His tweet, which was later deleted, quickly received backlash, with some Twitter users demanding he be removed from his position.
Gatwech slammed his comments as “straight up racism” to NBC New York. “Coming from somebody with so much power, that was so disappointing,” she said. She shared the tweet on her Instagram to set the record straight.
Lieberman’s comment was a retweet of a post claiming Gatwech set a Guinness World Records title for having the darkest skin. She clarified that the claim was untrue.
“My manager first brought it to my attention in 2020 and although we’ve denied it to multiple fact-checkers, clearly it’s still floating around even after @guinnessworldrecords stated that it 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.
“I love my dark skin and my nickname ‘Queen of Dark,’ but I’ve never said I’m the darkest person on earth,” she said. Lieberman apologized to his colleagues in an email Tuesday, calling his tweet “racist and sexist” and saying he was “deeply ashamed.” A Columbia spokesperson shared the email with NBC News.
“An apology from me to the Black community, to women, and to all of you is not enough,” the email said. “I’ve hurt many, and I am beginning to understand the work ahead to make needed personal changes and over time regain your trust.”
Lieberman’s Twitter account was no longer up as of Thursday morning. Lieberman did not immediately respond to NBC News’ request for comment early Thursday.