Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Public Health (MPH)


School of Public Health

First Advisor

Laura E. Bothwell

Second Advisor

Marco A. Ramos


In the early 1960s, the Community Mental Health Centers Act aimed to overhaul the infrastructure of the mental health care system, transitioning patient care from dilapidated state psychiatric institutions to self-sufficient, comprehensive mental health centers within communities. Many academic medical centers viewed this federal legislation as an opportunity to gain access to an additional patient population for training and economic purposes. From New York City to Boston to New Haven, institutional aspirations for community control were burgeoning, and community psychiatry became a conduit for institutions to extend their reach into local communities under the guise of progressive mental health reform.

The Connecticut Mental Health Center (CtMHC), a collaboration between the state and Yale University, took a unique approach by hiring Fred Harris, a prominent community leader and grassroots activist, in 1969. However, rather than amplifying the voices of Black and underserved residents of New Haven in organizational decisions, Harris’s appointment underscored the disjunction between Yale's professed commitment to community engagement and its actual institutional practices. The institution demonstrated reluctance to heed community input, and when community pressure reached a boiling point, Yale and CtMHC leaders opted to terminate Harris. Yet, this decision drew criticism from within the institution’s own community—students, staff, faculty, and residents—who rallied, urging the university to reconsider the importance of service in education. This historical analysis illuminates the intricate interplay between urban renewal initiatives, federal mental health legislation, and institutional agendas, exposing how academic medical centers exploited community psychiatry to expand their influence. As we confront contemporary challenges in mental health and urban development, this retrospective examination prompts a critical reevaluation of power dynamics and advocates for a renewed commitment to equitable and inclusive practices in both academia and community-based care.


This thesis is restricted to Yale network users only. It will be made publicly available on 05/07/2026