Joanne Berger-Sweeney

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Joanne Berger-Sweeney
Joanne Berger-Sweeney in 2012
Joanne Berger-Sweeney in 2012
Los Angeles, California
EducationPhD, MPH, BA
Alma materJohns Hopkins, UC Berkeley, Wellesley College
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]

Early life and education[edit]

Berger-Sweeney's parents met at Clark College. Her father earned his law degree at Howard University, finishing 2nd in his class.[2] 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.[2][3]

A native of Los Angeles, Berger-Sweeney attended Holman United Methodist Church. Later in life, at her first commencement ceremony at Trinity College, Berger-Sweeney asked civil rights leader and former Holman UMC pastor Rev. James Morris Lawson, Jr. to speak.[4][5]

Berger-Sweeney attended Wellesley College, where she earned an undergraduate degree in psychobiology (neuroscience).[6] She received a Masters of Public Health from the University of California, Berkeley.[7] Berger-Sweeney completed her doctoral work in neurotoxicology with Joseph T. Coyle at John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.[8][9] Berger-Sweeney did proof-of-concept work on galantamine (brand name Razadyne), showing that the drug reversed memory deficits in mice. Her work served as the foundation for clinical trials by Janssen Pharmaceutica, culminating in the drug's approval by the FDA.[9] Galantamine is the second-most-used Alzheimer's drug in the world. [6][7]

Berger-Sweeney received her PhD in 1989. She completed her postdoctoral training at the National Institute of Health (Inserm) in Paris, France.[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[4] 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, where she served 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]

On October 26, 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 her tenure at Trinity College, Berger-Sweeney was involved in several controversies which garnered national media attention.

Johnny Eric Williams[edit]

In April 2019, professor of sociology Johnny Eric Williams tweeted "whiteness is terrorism," drawing 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]

The same professor had been suspended in 2017 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 the decision to approve the Churchill Club, a conservative student organization. Gregory B. Smith, professor of political science, had founded the club at Trinity College.[20][21] The Churchill Club describes itself as "dedicated to the preservation, dissemination and extension of the Western moral and philosophical tradition." Smith called African-American, Asian-American, Latino, Muslim and Jewish culture houses on campus “tribal enclaves,” which drew criticism.[20]

Over two dozen students handed Berger-Sweeney a letter of demands, including that she reverse the club's approval, denounce white supremacy, and change the club approval process.[20] In a written statement, Berger-Sweeney affirmed Trinity College's commitment to academic freedom. Her statement read, in part, "We have an unshakable 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.[6] 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.[6] She is also a member of the board of trustees of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory.[7]


Berger-Sweeney has received grants from the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation, as well as from private foundations, for her work on the neurobiology of learning and memory, with applications to neurodevelopmental disorders. She has authored or co-authored more than 60 scientific articles.[10]

Awards and honors[edit]

Berger-Sweeney has received a number of awards for her scientific work, including the following:

Personal life[edit]

Berger-Sweeney's husband, Urs V. Berger, is a neuroscientist and computer scientist. They have two children.[4]

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 "About President Berger-Sweeney". Trinity College. Retrieved 2019-05-29.
  2. ^ a b Berger-Sweeney, J. Trinity inaugural address. Retrieved May 31, 2019.
  3. ^ Girl Scouts of Connecticut organization honors President Berger-Sweeney. Trinity College Press Release. Retrieved May 31, 2019.
  4. ^ a b c Wardlaw, V (September 2, 2015). "Trinity College president celebrates 70th anniversary of Holman UMC". Los Angeles Sentinel. Retrieved 2019-05-31.
  5. ^ James Lawson, elder statesman of civil rights movement, is 2015 commencement speaker. Trinity College Press Release May 7, 2015. Retrieved May 31, 2019.
  6. ^ a b c d "Joanne Berger-Sweeney: Executive Profile & Biography". Company Overview of Hartford HealthCare Corporation. Bloomberg LP. Retrieved 2019-06-22.
  7. ^ a b c d "Joanne Berger-Sweeney, PhD, MPH, elected to Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Board of Trustees". The ASCO Post. April 25, 2017. Retrieved 2019-05-31.
  8. ^ a b Berger-Sweeney Distinguished Alumna Award Profile. Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health
  9. ^ a b Coyle, J. (nd). Joseph T. Coyle in The History of Neuroscience in Autobiography. Retrieved May 31, 2019.
  10. ^ a b c d "Dr. Joanne Berger-Sweeney". American Academy of Arts and Sciences. April 2018. Retrieved 2019-06-22.
  11. ^ a b Megan, K (July 17, 2018). "Trinity Renews President Joanne Berger-Sweeney's Contract For Five Years". Hartford Courant. Retrieved 2019-06-22.
  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 2019-05-31.
  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 2019-05-31.
  17. ^ Berger-Sweeney, J (January 23, 2018). "Safeguarding academic freedom and a college community". Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved 2019-05-31.
  18. ^ Flaherty, C (June 27, 2017). "Trinity suspends targeted professor". Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved 2019-05-31.
  19. ^ Pappano, L (August 4, 2017). "Professors as targets of internet outrage". The New York Times. Retrieved 2019-05-31.
  20. ^ a b c d Rondinone, N (2019). "Trinity students again protest school's decision to accept controversial Churchill Club". Retrieved 2019-05-29.
  21. ^ Gregory Smith faculty profile, Trinity College. Retrieved May 31, 2019.
  22. ^ "Member Directory". Sigma Xi. Retrieved 2019-06-22.
  23. ^ "Award Abstract #9458101 - NSF Young Investigator". National Science Foundation. Retrieved 2019-06-22.
  24. ^ a b "Joanne Berger-Sweeney". The HistoryMakers. April 23, 2013. Retrieved 2019-06-22.
  25. ^ Mary Bates (Jul 26, 2013). "Dean, neuroscientist, mentor: The many hats of Joanne Berger-Sweeney". American Association for the Advancement of Science. Retrieved 2019-06-22.