Joanne Berger-Sweeney

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Joanne Berger-Sweeney
Joanne Berger-Sweeney in 2012
Joanne Berger-Sweeney in 2012
Los Angeles, California
Known forProof-of-concept work on galantamine, a drug used to treat Alzheimer's disease
Spouse(s)Urs V. Berger
Scientific career
InstitutionsTrinity College (Connecticut)
Doctoral advisorJoseph T. Coyle

Joanne E. Berger-Sweeney is an American neuroscientist and the 22nd president of Trinity College, Hartford, Connecticut.[1] Her inaugural ceremony was held on October 26, 2014.[1]

Early life and education[edit]

A native of Los Angeles, Berger-Sweeney attended Holman United Methodist Church.[2] At her first commencement ceremony at Trinity College (Connecticut), Berger-Sweeney asked civil rights leader and former Holman UMC pastor Rev. James Morris Lawson, Jr. to speak.[2][3] Berger-Sweeney's parents met at Clark College. Her father earned his law degree at Howard University, finishing 2nd in his class.[4] Her mother was Executive Director of the Los Angeles Girl Scouts Council and was the first African-American woman to lead a Girl Scouts Council in a major metropolitan area.[4][5]

Berger-Sweeney completed her doctoral work in neurotoxicology with Joseph T. Coyle [Wikidata].[6] Berger-Sweeney did the proof of concept work on Galantamine (brand name Razadyne). Her work showed that galantamine reversed memory deficits in mice. Her work served as the foundation for clinical trials by Janssen, which led to the drug being approved by the FDA.[6] Galantamine is the second-most-used Alzheimer’s drug in the world. [7][8]


Berger-Sweeney attended Wellesley College, where she earned an undergraduate degree in psychobiology (neuroscience).[7] From the University of California, Berkeley, Berger-Sweeney earned a Masters of Public Health.[7][2] In 1989, Berger-Sweeney earned her doctoral degree from John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.[9] After earning her doctorate, Berger-Sweeney went to the National Institute of Health (INSERM) in Paris, France to complete her postdoctoral training.[7]

Berger-Sweeney returned to Wellesley in 1991 to teach and conduct research.[1] She was the first African-American woman at Wellesley to become a full professor[2] and was named the Allene Lummis Russell Professor in Neuroscience.[1] During her tenure at Wellesley, she served as Director of the neuroscience program and as Associate Dean of the College.[1]

In 2010, Berger-Sweeney became Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences at Tufts University, a position she served in until 2014. During Berger-Sweeney's tenure as dean, she strengthened the school’s faculty and interdisciplinary programs. She helped create the Center for Race and Democracy at Tufts, which studies the impact of race on individuals' lives.[10] She also led the creation of the Bridge to Liberal Arts Success at Tufts (BLAST) program, supports college students from underserved high schools.[10]

In 2014, she became the first woman and the first African-American to lead Trinity College (Connecticut).[11] In 2018, the college renewed her contract through 2024.[11] Berger-Sweeney has overseen several important initiatives at Trinity, including a new strategic plan that will guide the college through 2023; a new mentoring program for incoming students (the Bantam Network); a new campus initiative to promote respect and inclusion; and an expansion into downtown Hartford.[1]


During Berger-Sweeney’s tenure at Trinity College (Connecticut), there have also been some controversies that have garnered national media attention

Johnny Eric Williams[edit]

In April 2019, Johnny Eric Williams, Professor of Sociology, tweeted "whiteness is terrorism," which drew criticism from alumni and others.[12][13] Berger-Sweeney released statements affirming Trinity College's support for "academic freedom and free expression and inquiry."[12][14]

In 2017, the same professor was suspended after he used "#LetThemFuckingDie" on a Facebook post.[15] Conservative media argued that the hashtag was in response to a post about the Republican Congressional baseball practice shooting, in which Steve Scalise was shot.[15][16] Williams stated the posts were not a call for violence against white people.[15]

In responses to threats after the 2017 incident, Berger-Sweeney shut down campus and initiated an investigation of Williams.[15][17] Prior to the campus shutdown, Berger-Sweeney wrote in an email to campus that a "call to show indifference to the lives of bigots" when their lives are endangered is "reprehensible, and any such suggestion is abhorrent."[15] Although Williams was suspended,[18] he was eventually cleared in an investigation that concluded conservative media misinterpreted his posts.[14][19]

Churchill Club[edit]

Trinity students confronted Berger-Sweeney at a midday event on May 2, 2019 over decision to approve the club, Churchill Club, a conservative student organization. Over two dozen students handed Berger-Sweeney a letter of demands during this exchange. These demands include that she retract the club's approval, release a statement denouncing white supremacy and change the two-step process to approve clubs.[20]

The Churchill Club is a 10-member group that describes itself as “dedicated to the preservation, dissemination and extension of the Western moral and philosophical tradition." The club is the first campus chapter of the Churchill Institute, which was started by Gregory B. Smith, a Professor of Political Science at Trinity College.[20][21] Smith drew criticism for referring to African-American, Asian-American, Latino, Muslim and Jewish culture houses on campus as “tribal enclaves.” [20]

Again, Berger-Sweeney affirmed Trinity College's commitment to academic freedom. Her statement read, in part, "We have an unshakeable commitment to free expression and inquiry, open debate and discourse, and the valuing of all voices."[20]

Other Leadership Positions[edit]

Berger-Sweeney serves as a Director at Hartford Hospital, Inc and Hartford HealthCare Corporation.[7] She chairs the professional development committee of the Society for Neuroscience, is on the board of directors for the AFS Intercultural Programs/USA, and is a Trustee and chair of the Academic Affairs Committee for Framingham State University.[7]


Berger-Sweeney has received numerous grants, including grants from the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation, as well as grants from private foundations. She has written more than 60 scientific articles.[10]

Awards and honors[edit]

Berger-Sweeney has received a number of awards. She received a Young Investigator Award from the National Science Foundation and a Lifetime Mentoring Award from the Society of Neuroscience.[10] In 2018, Berger-Sweeney was elected to the American Arts and Sciences, one of the oldest learning societies in the United States.[10]

Personal life[edit]

Berger-Sweeney's husband, Urs V. Berger is a neuroscientist and computer scientist.[2] They have two children.[2]

Selected works[edit]

  • 2014-Schaevitz L, Berger-Sweeney J, Ricceri L. One-carbon metabolism in neurodevelopmental disorders: using broad-based nutraceutics to treat cognitive deficits in complex spectrum disorders. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews. 46: 270-84. PMID 24769289 DOI: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2014.04.007
  • 2012- Schaevitz LR, Berger-Sweeney JE. Gene-environment interactions and epigenetic pathways in autism: the importance of one-carbon metabolism. Ilar Journal / National Research Council, Institute of Laboratory Animal Resources. 53: 322-40. PMID 23744970 DOI: 10.1093/ilar.53.3-4.322
  • 2011- Berger-Sweeney J. Cognitive deficits in Rett syndrome: what we know and what we need to know to treat them. Neurobiology of Learning and Memory. 96: 637-46.
  • 2009- Ward BC, Kolodny NH, Nag N, Berger-Sweeney JE. Neurochemical changes in a mouse model of Rett syndrome: changes over time and in response to perinatal choline nutritional supplementation. Journal of Neurochemistry. 108: 361-71. PMID 19012748 DOI: 10.1111/j.1471-4159.2008.05768.x
  • 2008- Nag N, Mellott TJ, Berger-Sweeney JE. Effects of postnatal dietary choline supplementation on motor regional brain volume and growth factor expression in a mouse model of Rett syndrome. Brain Research. 1237: 101-9. PMID 18778693 DOI: 10.1016/j.brainres.2008.08.042


  1. ^ a b c d e f Trinity College (2019). About President Berger-Sweeney. Trinity Press Release Retrieved May 29, 2019 from
  2. ^ a b c d e f Wardlaw, V. (September 2, 2015). Trinity College president celebrates 70th anniversary of Holman UMC. Los Angeles Sentinel. Retrieved May 31, 2019.
  3. ^ James Lawson, elder statesman of civil rights movement, is 2015 commencement speaker. Trinity College Press Release May 7, 2015. Retrieved May 31, 2019.
  4. ^ a b Berger-Sweeney, J. Trinity inaugural address. Retrieved May 31, 2019.
  5. ^ Girl Scouts of Connecticut organization honors President Berger-Sweeney. Trinity College Press Release. Retrieved May 31, 2019.
  6. ^ a b Coyle, J. (nd). Joseph T. Coyle in The History of Neuroscience in Autobiography. Retrieved May 31, 2019.
  7. ^ a b c d e f Bloomsberg (2019). Executive Profile Berger-Sweeney. Company Overview of Hartford HealthCare Corporation Retrieved May 29, 2019 from
  8. ^ Joanne Berger-Sweeney, PhD, MPH, elected to Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Board of Trustees. The ASCO Post, April 25, 2017. Retrieved May 31, 2019.
  9. ^ Berger-Sweeney Distinguished Alumna Award Profile. Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health
  10. ^ a b c d e Bloomsberg (2019). Joanne Berger-Sweeney profile. Dr. Joanne Berger-Sweeney Retrieved May 29, 2019 from
  11. ^ a b Megan, K. (July 17, 2018). Trinity Renews President Joanne Berger-Sweeney's Contract for Five Years. Hartford Courant
  12. ^ a b Fink, J. (April 24, 2019). Trinity College professor defends 'whiteness is terrorism' tweet amid alumni backlash. Newsweek Retrieved May 31, 2019.
  13. ^ Editorial: At Trinity College, a new intolerance takes root. Hartford Courant May 5, 2019. Retrieved May 31, 2019.
  14. ^ a b Flaherty, C. (May 1, 2019) Speech on blast (again) at Trinity. Inside Higher Ed
  15. ^ a b c d e Megan, K. (June 22, 2017). Trinity professor flees campus after threats over Facebook comments, issues public apology. Hartford Courant Retrieved May 31, 2019.
  16. ^ Flaherty, C. (June 22, 2017). The dangers of filtered speech. Inside Higher Ed Retrieved May 31, 2019.
  17. ^ Berger-Sweeney, J. (January 23, 2018). Safeguarding academic freedom and a college community. Inside Higher Ed Retrieved May 31, 2019.
  18. ^ Flaherty, C. (June 27, 2017). Trinity suspends targeted professor. Inside Higher Ed Retrieved May 31, 2019.
  19. ^ Pappano, L. (August 4, 2017). Professors as targets of internet outrage. The New York Times. Retrieved May 31, 2019.
  20. ^ a b c d Rondinone, Nicholas (2019). Churchill club protest. Trinity students again protest school’s decision to accept controversial Churchill Club Retrieved May 29, 2019 from
  21. ^ Gregory Smith faculty profile, Trinity College. Retrieved May 31, 2019.