Women June 24, 2021 at 12:04 pm

The life and journey of the first African-American woman professor in Yale Psychiatry history

Ama Nunoo June 24, 2021 at 12:04 pm

June 24, 2021 at 12:04 pm | Women

Cindy Crusto makes Yale history as its first African American female professor of psychiatry. Photo: Yale School of Medicine

Dr. Cindy Crusto is the first African-American woman professor of Psychiatry at the Yale School of medicine. Her history-making position as the first Black woman to hold that position was not formed in a vacuum. She grew up envisioning a world where all men and women will be treated equally, a world where people, especially children’s trauma and past experiences are properly addressed to mitigate further psychological damage.

While a high schooler in New Orleans, she worked in her mother’s Montessori early care and education center and ran after-school programs. After her first lesson in psychology, she took an interest in clinical and community psychology.

Growing up in a divorced home, she joined a support group for children of divorced parents ran by her psychology teacher. Seeing how the counsel from her teacher helped her and the other children, Crusto knew she had found her passion to help people overcome adversity.

“I think we’re all the product of a cumulation of risks and protective factors. I’ve had my share of both in my life, and I’ve always been interested in how we can prevent or mitigate the impact of some of those negative life experiences,” Crusto said.

To have a well-rounded view of how everything around us affects our psyche as humans, Crusto studied political science, sociology, history, and Africana studies. She joined Yale in 1999 as a member of the Doctoral Internship in Clinical & Community Psychology, focusing her work on addressing the socio-economic challenges facing children and families of color and communities of color as well.

Today community-based research is more viable than when Crusto started. To build a career in academia while being actively engaged in communal work was an “anomaly” in the early 2000s, she said.

However, being able to do so now is something that Crusto does not take for granted, especially being the first African-American woman professor of psychiatry.

“There were many people who came before me who worked just as hard or harder than me, and so I have complex feelings about my accomplishment,” she said.

Crusto is however proud of all that she has been able to accomplish since she chose this career path.

“I know I worked extraordinarily hard to develop and carry out my career plan, and I am immensely proud. I was fortunate to have had mentorship, sponsorship, and advocacy, but at the same time, I must remember we are in this system that does not provide that for everyone, especially women and racial and ethnic minorities. I do feel an immense responsibility, and I’m thinking of what I can do daily to help someone else get to this point,” she added.

As a fierce advocate for diversity and inclusion, Crusto is known for her work in community-engaged research, program evaluation and research, and intervention work in children’s exposure to psychological trauma and its impact on their health and well-being.

She has spearheaded various initiatives in her community, school and beyond that have impacted the lives of Blacks and ethnic minorities.

Per the Yale School of Medicine, Crusto is the deputy chair for diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in the department of psychiatry and co-chair of the Yale School of Medicine minority organization for retention and expansion (MORE). She is also a member of the executive committee of the Yale School of Medicine committee on the status of women in medicine (SWIM), and deputy Title IX coordinator at Yale.

The newly appointed professor’s goal at the departmental level is to evaluate and measure the impact of the work being done by her team and how it has affected system change. 

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