A Yale dean was brought down by her Yelp reviews

One star, for racism?
One star, for racism?
Image: AP Photo/Douglas Healey
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Yelp is ruining careers again.

June Chu, a residential college dean at Yale, was placed on leave this week after screenshots of her personal Yelp reviews—in which she called some customers at local institutions “white trash” and “low-class folks”—circulated on campus.

It all began when Chu, who champions the importance of diversity in her prominent role within Yale’s faculty, boasted to her students in a residential-college-wide email on Jan. 30 that she had become “Yelp Elite,” a special tier of Yelp membership bestowed on highly active reviewers. The email prompted some students to find her actual Yelp account. They uncovered a litany of scathing messages, including Chu telling a fitness-center employee “seriously I don’t care if you would lose your job (I’m sure McDonald’s would hire you)” and praising a movie theater for not having “sketchy crowds.” In another:

Why is there no separate line for just tickets [at this theater]? So what they have is barely educated morons trying to manage snack orders for the obese and also try to add $7 plus $7… Like a fool, I remain in line with all the other idiots.

(The Yale Daily News collected a pdf of some of her reviews.)

Chu holds a counseling role to the hundreds of students in her residential college, and her biography says she seeks “to help students not only succeed academically but to support their holistic academic experience and multifaceted identities.”

According to Stephen Davis, a faculty member who serves as the co-head of Chu’s residential college, Chu will not participate in graduation activities next week or work with students for the remainder of the academic year. Her “reprehensible posts” have damaged students’ trust and are “deeply harmful to the community fabric,” Davis said in an email to students Thursday. The dean herself has deleted the account and issued an apology to students, noting that she has “learned a lot this semester about the power of words and about the accountability that we owe one another.”

That a handful of Yelp reviews were enough to essentially suspend the dean from her duties is a lesson in two parts. In the debate about sensitivity and free speech on college campuses, professors and faculty members are necessarily held to a much higher standard than students or guest speakers. And secondly, Chu could have learned a thing or two from what all college grads these days know: never post anything on social media—especially anything that could come off as racist or derogatory—that could damage you professionally, in the remotest way, because if it’s out there, it will be found.

Given that Chu has a PhD in social psychology, she perhaps should have seen the backlash coming.