A dean at Yale University has been placed on leave after students objected to comments she wrote in online reviews of local businesses, and the university learned of what it calls “multiple reprehensible posts.”
June Chu, dean of one of Yale’s residential colleges, wrote on Yelp about a theater not having “sketchy crowds (despite it being in new haven),” a cinema having “barely educated morons trying to manage snack orders for the obese and also try to add $7 plus $7.” She wrote, “I guess if you were a white person who has no clue what mochi is, this would be fine for you,” and, in a review of a Japanese restaurant, ” … if you are white trash, this is the perfect night out for you!”
The Yale Daily News, which broke the story about her online reviews last weekend, was also first to report that she had been placed on leave.
Her comments offended some students, one of whom told the Yale Daily News that they showed a clear bias against certain groups of people. And they reverberated nationally, because they surfaced at a time when colleges across the country are struggling with debates over racism, cultural differences, stereotypes and language.
At many schools, that has led to protests over things such as parties seen as culturally insensitive — for example, Mexican-themed parties with costumes that are caricatures — and efforts to teach students to watch their words and actions to avoid giving offense.
There has been strong backlash, too, against students seen as so overly sensitive that “microaggressions” touch off campus crises.
Last year at Yale, an instructor angered many students when she urged students to think critically about official guidelines on what Halloween costumes are culturally appropriate, an email many students called racist. That set off intense demonstrations over race, and a series of changes imposed by the university in response to student demands.
The Yale Daily News posted images of the Yelp comments, which have been deleted online.
Chu did not immediately respond to a message requesting comment Thursday morning.
Last week, she wrote an email to students in Pierson apologizing, according to the Yale Daily News: “I have learned a lot this semester about the power of words and about the accountability that we owe one another. My remarks were wrong. There are no two ways about it. Not only were they insensitive in matters related to class and race; they demean the values to which I hold myself and which I offer as a member of this community.”
A spokesman for Yale shared a copy of the email that professor Stephen Davis, head of college, sent to Pierson College students Thursday morning. Davis had earlier asked students to find a way forward after Chu apologized for two offensive reviews, but he wrote Thursday that he had since learned of more, enough to constitute a pattern.
“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,” he wrote. “Yale unequivocally values respect for all. This is simply to reaffirm what I wrote to you on Saturday: what holds us together is our collective effort to ensure that every single person in our midst is valued beyond measure.”
Here is his message in full:
Dear Pierson community,
I am writing to let you know that Dean Chu has been placed on leave and will not be participating in Commencement activities or working with students through the end of this academic year. In the meantime, Elaine Lincoln will be coordinating with Dean Mark Schenker in the Yale College Dean’s Office to make sure that your academic needs are properly addressed.
I am very aware that when I last wrote to you on Saturday morning, it was to ask you to partner with me in envisioning a way forward — to carve out a space for grace — in the aftermath of Dean Chu’s email to the college apologizing for two Yelp reviews in which she had used inappropriate and unacceptable language pertaining to matters of class and race. I did so even though I found the views she expressed to be deeply harmful to our community fabric. I did so because 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.
Today I am grieving because I no longer can envision such a way forward. When I wrote to you on Saturday morning, it was with the understanding — and under assurance from Dean Chu, an assurance given to me and to others — that she had posted only two troubling reviews on social media. On Saturday evening, I found out that she 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. This is simply to reaffirm what I wrote to you on Saturday: what holds us together is our collective effort to ensure that every single person in our midst is valued beyond measure. This is true not only in Pierson and across the university, but most emphatically throughout the city of New Haven and in every locale beyond.
This collective effort takes hard work. We work and strive every day to fulfill our basic social imperative: to honor and embrace those who are different from us. It also takes trust. We seek to forgive, but there are also consequences to our actions, and discerning when trust has been broken is one of the most difficult and painful kinds of labor.
And so, I write you today with a different kind of request: to join me in the equally important labor of rebuilding the trust that holds us together. Jenny and I are available to you 24/7, and we remain committed to making Pierson a place where this is possible.