BPA Statement On Public Twitter Statement by Dr. Lieberman, former Chair of Psychiatry at Columbia (February 28, 2022)

Created in 1969, the founders of the Black Psychiatrists of America understood the importance of moving progressively to ensure the emotional and psychological development of African Americans, affording them the tools to cope and succeed in the face of persistent racism.

The mission of The Black Psychiatrists of America is to address issues affecting the mental health of African people worldwide with special emphasis on persons of African descent in the Americas and to provide a forum for continuing education for those who provide psychiatric care to these underserved population groups.

Less than one week ago, and during Black History month, the chair of Psychiatry at Columbia University used his personal twitter account to tweet a photo of a Sudanese model and called her a “freak of nature.” The tweet, sent from the (now deleted) personal twitter account of Dr. Jeffrey A. Lieberman, is traumatizing for many reasons. As he took to Twitter last week, not only did he sit at the helm of the Psychiatry Department at Columbia University, he simultaneously served as the Director of the New York State Psychiatric Institute, was Psychiatrist in Chief at New York Presbyterian and is a past-president of the American Psychiatric Association. He led a department that trains almost 50 residents and several fellows every year. His position of power over the training of future psychiatrists and his experience treating Black patients are vast, and the unapologetic fetishization and dehumanization of a Black Woman as of late has not gone completely unchecked. However, suspension, resignation and dismissal from these vaunted positions of power and influence are only the first steps, and are insufficient to neutralize the far-reaching negative impact on the movement toward dismantling structural racism and its poisonous byproducts.

The mission of BPA is to dispel and correct misrepresentations that dehumanize our Black community members and other marginalized groups. The tweet is an affront to what we stand for, and the long-held silence from Columbia University and the Columbia University Department of Psychiatry is deafening. Our hope is that this incident will prompt honest and deep self-examination of an institutional culture that would elevate and aggrandize those who harbor and express such sentiments as those expressed publicly by Dr. Lieberman. If advantage is taken of this moment, Columbia University will demonstrate their commitment to real action in concrete ways, perhaps by devoting human and financial resources to eliminate inequities in care, by increasing career and research opportunities for people of color, and providing anti-racist education for all of their psychiatric physicians. Columbia University, we remind you of the Hippocratic Oath, Primum non Nocere. First, do no harm.

We await action.

Cynthia Turner-Graham, M.D.

Napoleon Higgins, M.D.

Benjamin Roy, M.D.

Stephen McLeod-Bryant, M.D.

Topaz Sampson, M.D.

Ikwunga Wonodi, M.D.

Wilsa Charles-Malveaux, M.D.

Tiffani Bell, M.D.

Michael Ingram, M.D.

Welton Washington, M.D.

Ja’Nelle Blocker, M.D.

Danielle Hairston, M.D.

William Lawson, M.D

Sam Okpaku, M.D.

Aeva Doomes, M.D.