The psychiatry department head at Columbia University has been suspended for comments he made about the dark-skinned color of a model of South-Sudanese descent after a photo of her was shared on Twitter. According to NBC News, Jeffrey Lieberman referred to model Nyakim Gatwech as a “freak of nature.”
Lieberman made those comments in response to an original post claiming Gatwech had set a record with her skin color. “Whether a work of art or freak of nature she’s a beautiful sight to behold,” Lieberman wrote.
Until his suspension on Wednesday, Lieberman served as the psychiatry department chair at Columbia’s Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons. He was also removed from his position as psychiatrist-in-chief at Columbia University Irving Medical Center/NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, an email that was sent to Columbia faculty and staff and later shared with NBC News revealed.
Lieberman deleted the tweet in the wake of the backlash that ensued on the social media platform. And though he also later rendered an apology, Twitter users demanded he be relieved of his duties.
In an interview with NBC New York, Gatwech referred to his comments as “straight up racism.” “Coming from somebody with so much power, that was so disappointing,” she added.
Gatwech also posted a screenshot of the tweet on her Instagram page to clarify a few things. The original tweet Lieberman commented on had claimed Gatwech was in the Guinness Book of World Records for “having the darkest skin ever seen on earth.” The model said that wasn’t true.
“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 added.
Lieberman also rendered an apology to his colleagues in an email that was shared with NBC News. In the Tuesday email, Lieberman said his tweet was “racist and sexist”, adding that he was “deeply ashamed.”
“An apology from me to the Black community, to women, and to all of you is not enough,” he 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.”