After a photo of a model of South Sudanese heritage was circulated on Twitter, the director of Columbia University’s psychiatry department was suspended for comments he made concerning her dark skin. Model Nyakim Gatwech was described as a “freak of nature” by Jeffrey Lieberman, according to NBC News.
In reaction to an earlier post saying Gatwech had established a record with her skin color, Lieberman made those remarks. “Whether a piece of art or a freak of nature,” Lieberman said, “she’s a magnificent sight to witness.”
Lieberman was the chair of the psychiatry department at Columbia’s Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons until his suspension on Wednesday. According to an email written to Columbia faculty and staff and later published by NBC News, he was also fired from his role as psychiatrist-in-chief at Columbia University Irving Medical Center/NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital.
Following the outcry on social media, Lieberman removed the post. Despite his later apologies, Twitter users urged that he be stripped of his duties.
Gatwech described his remarks as “straight out racism” in an interview with NBC New York. “That was really disheartening coming from someone with so much power,” she added.
Gatwech also clarified a few points on her Instagram page by posting a screenshot of the tweet. Gatwech was listed in the Guinness Book of World Records for “having the darkest skin ever seen on earth,” according to the original tweet on which Lieberman reacted. That wasn’t accurate, according to the model.
“My manager first brought it to my attention in 2020, and despite our denials to various fact-checkers, it’s definitely still floating around, even after @guinnessworldrecords said that it does not monitor skin tones.” She wrote, “I can’t imagine it’s even conceivable to know who the world’s lightest or darkest individual is!”
“I enjoy my dark skin and my nickname ‘Queen of Dark,’ but I’ve never claimed to be the world’s darkest person,” she continued.
In an email that was obtained with NBC News, Lieberman also apologized to his colleagues. Lieberman said in a Tuesday email that his tweet was “racist and sexist,” and that he was “very embarrassed.”
“It is not enough for me to apologize to the Black community, to women, and to all of you,” he continued. “I’ve harmed a lot of people, and I’m starting to see how hard it will be to make the necessary personal changes and reclaim your trust over time.”