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Yale's Notorious Yelp Reviewer Is Now on Leave

What started as a controversy about two posts escalated as more of her comments materialized.

May 19, 2017
 

Yelp is a website where anyone can rate restaurants and various services, theoretically allowing others to benefit from your experiences. Of course these days, that also means plenty of reviews that share writers' biases about all kinds of things irrelevant to food being served or services provided.

When you are a dean at Yale University, and have expressed such biases repeatedly on Yelp, it can be dangerous to one's reputation to have such comments circulate widely.

June Chu is a dean of Yale's Pierson College (a position that involves leadership of a residential college, not an academic deanship). For weeks now, Yale students have been circulating some of her Yelp reviews that denigrated various groups. Her comments frequently didn't focus on the restaurant she was commenting on, but on groups of people she saw there, on which she offered her criticism. For example, in a much-quoted review of a restaurant (above) she wrote, "If you are white trash, this is the perfect night out for you." In a review of a movie theater, she praised the "lack of sketchy crowds, despite it being in New Haven." In a review of another movie theater, she wrote about "barely educated morons trying to manage snack order for the obese …."

The Yale Daily News, which broke the story, has published a selection of the Yelp reviews here.

When the story first broke, and Chu apologized to her students, Yale seemed to regard the incident as unfortunate, but not necessarily career altering.

As the week went on, however, more and more Yelp reviews by Chu, containing insults, materialized (many of them promptly shared on social media), and Yale's position changed. (Chu has taken down her Yelp account but is not commenting.)

Stephen Davis, a professor of religious studies and history who is head of Pierson College, on Thursday sent a note to students and others, in which he said his views on the situation had evolved. At the beginning of the week, he said, based on discussions with Chu, "I was convinced that her apology was genuine, because I believed that those posts were not representative of her and of the good work I had seen Dean Chu do in her capacity as dean, and because I still had hope for the possibility of envisioning a path toward healing and reconciliation." He also believed that the issue was about two posts.

But as the days progressed, and more posts became public, he said his views changed.

"Today I am grieving because I no longer can envision such a way forward," he wrote, because Chu "was in fact responsible for multiple reprehensible posts, enough to represent a more widespread pattern. The additional posts that surfaced compounded the harm of the initial two, and they also further damaged my trust and confidence in Dean Chu’s accountability to me and ability to lead the students of Pierson College. Let me be clear. No one, especially those in trusted positions of educating young people, should denigrate or stereotype others, and that extends to any form of discrimination based on class, race, religion, age, disability, gender identity or sexual orientation. Yale unequivocally values respect for all."

Many of Chu's critics at Yale have also noted a contrast between her Yelp reviews and the sentiments she expressed in an Inside Higher Ed essay last year. She wrote in the essay about the challenges of counseling students on careers and life when their goals may be influenced (or not) by their backgrounds. In the piece, she wrote about how those who advise students must show respect for their values to "connect and encourage" them.

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