New Orleans Native Cindy Crusto Becomes First Female African American Professor in Yale Psychiatry History

Cindy Crusto, PhD, a New Orleans Native, was recently promoted to Professor of Psychiatry, making her the first African-American woman in the history of the Department of Psychiatry at Yale School of Medicine to reach that rank

Jordan Sisson

Cindy Crusto, PhD, has always been interested in children’s health and well-being. As a high schooler in New Orleans, she worked at her mother’s Montessori early care and education center and ran afterschool programs, but when she took her first psychology class as a senior, “I was just hooked,” she said. Her psychology teacher also led groups for children of divorced parents, and watching her teacher play multiple roles within her school community intrigued Crusto. She was a participant in that group for children of divorced parents and remembers feeling comforted because she was not the only one with this experience. Later, participation in the group helped her understand the powerful role that schools could play in children’s social and emotional well-being. When she realized there was a field dedicated to helping people overcome adversity, she decided she wanted to become a psychologist.“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,” she said.

Over the years, Crusto supplemented her interest in psychology with studies in political science, sociology, history, and Africana studies to build a career in community and clinical psychology. Now, after spending the last 22 years at Yale, Crusto was recently promoted to Professor of Psychiatry, making her the first African-American woman in the history of the Department of Psychiatry at Yale School of Medicine to reach that rank. “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. “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 have to remember we’re 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.”

As Deputy Chair for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) in the Department of Psychiatry, Crusto is responsible for diversity, inclusion, and equity initiatives, including co-chair of the department’s Diversity Committee and Anti-Racism Task Force, curriculum development, and management of identity-based harmful behavior. She holds additional leadership positions within Yale related to diversity and inclusion, including co-chair of the Yale School of Medicine Minority Organization for Retention and Expansion (MORE), a faculty developed and run organization designed to accelerate the appointment and retention of underrepresented racial/ethnic minority faculty members and enhance their professional environment; executive committee member of the Yale School of Medicine Committee on the Status of Women in Medicine (SWIM), which addresses gender equality at the Yale School of Medicine; and deputy Title IX coordinator at Yale.

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. Her experience in trauma research has impacted her way of approaching her work in diversity, equity, and inclusion, she said, by recognizing that being in these spaces can be traumatic for minoritized groups.

“Yale School of Medicine and the Department of Psychiatry were not developed for women, people of color, or other diverse groups. These spaces can be inconsistent with our ways of being and knowing. Diversity, equity, and inclusion work is about making those systems more responsive to and reflective of those differences. These are the things that impact people’s ability to realize their goals or progress in the system. I’m trying to level the playing field and to eradicate the barriers people face.” Over the last year, America has seen an increase in anti-Asian rhetoric and hate crimes since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as several high-profile cases of police brutality against Black Americans. Crusto said while it is in some ways helpful that these incidences have brought racism back to the forefront of the national conversation, there is still work to be done.

“The times we are in have allowed our system to progress, but we still have a long way to go,” she said. “We need to think about the degree to which we can challenge and interrupt these deeply held and ingrained patterns that perpetuate inequities, such as of who gets funding, published, physical space, honorifics, or equitable salaries. This is where people must demonstrate their commitment. We’re scratching the surface of understanding the root causes of these inequities, and we need to continue down the path.”

Crusto said her goal at the departmental level is to evaluate and measure the impact of the work being done and how it has affected system change. On a broader level within the School of Medicine, she is always searching for what more can be done and what other roles she can take on to champion change.

Cindy Crusto is the daughter of retired New Orleans educator and administrator Al Crusto.

Cindy Crusto, PhD, a New Orleans Native, was recently promoted to Professor of Psychiatry, making her the first African-American woman in the history of the Department of Psychiatry at Yale School of Medicine to reach that rank. “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. “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 have to remember we’re 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,” says Crusto regarding her new post.

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