Over the last year, Pierson College Dean June Chu published controversial reviews of local businesses on her personal Yelp account, on one occasion referring to clientele of a restaurant as “white trash” and “low class folks,” and on another praising a movie theater for its lack of “sketchy crowds” despite being located in New Haven.
Screenshots of the reviews, obtained by the News Saturday afternoon and accessible here, began circulating among Pierson students in recent months. Her account has since been deleted.
Chu sent an email to the residential college community on Saturday apologizing for her reviews, which have been been met with anger and disappointment by students.
“I have learned a lot this semester about the power of words and about the accountability that we owe one another,” Chu wrote. “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.”
Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway told the News on Saturday that the incident was brought to his attention a few days ago by Dean of Student Affairs Camille Lizarribar. Holloway, who spoke with Pierson Head Stephen Davis after finding out about the incident, said he was only aware of the two reviews Chu mentioned in her Saturday email.
But other reviews obtained by the News featured provocative comments that were not referenced in Saturday’s email. Most of the posts were published after June 2016, after Chu had been appointed dean.
In a 2015 review of Entertainment Cinemas in nearby Seymour, Chu criticized “barely educated morons trying to manage snack orders for the obese” and lamented that she had to “remain in line with all the other idiots.”
“Everyone raves about the views but seriously — it’s New Haven,” Chu wrote in a review of the restaurant John Davenport’s. “Come on. There is no view.”
According to Holloway, Chu, Davis and other administrators together decided that Chu should email Pierson students about the incident on Saturday after “wrestling with how to do the right thing.” Holloway praised Chu’s email for being “very honest” and said he hopes students will be able to recognize that people make mistakes and can learn from them.
“I’ve not asked for her resignation, and neither has Head Davis,” Holloway said. “She’s terribly sorry, and I think she’s doing exactly the right thing by saying ‘I’ve learned from this, I want to stand by all of you and I hope that you’ll stand by me as well.’”
Kelsang Dolma ’19, who is in Pierson, said she first heard rumors about the derogatory comments at the beginning of the spring semester. Dolma said she was “floored” when the rumors were validated, especially since she had positive interactions with Chu, who previously helped her navigate academic and professional concerns.
“It is always so refreshing to see an Asian American woman in leadership positions, and many of my female and POC friends were eager to see what she would do for us,” Dolma said. “I look forward to continue having [Chu] as my dean, but this incident has left me and other Piersonites disillusioned.”
Pierson student Ring Wang ’17 said she was surprised when she read Chu’s email on Saturday morning, adding that Chu’s ability to fulfill her duties moving forward will depend on how well she addresses students’ concerns about the incident in the months to come. Making amends will likely be a “big challenge,” given that Chu has only been dean for a year, Wang said.
Another student in Pierson who asked to remain anonymous said he and some friends searched Chu’s Yelp account after receiving a college-wide email on Jan. 30 in which she announced that she had become “Yelp Elite,” meaning she had been recognized by the website for active participation.
The student said he discussed the reviews with friends in Pierson and other residential colleges, and they agreed that Chu’s use of “demeaning and offensive” language was inappropriate for someone in her position.
“These reviews make it clear how Dean Chu thinks about people who are different from her, and how she feels about New Haven, the city all of us call home for a few years,” the student said.
Another anonymous student in Pierson said he and his friends found her reviews inappropriate, particularly one of The Mochi Store in New Haven, in which Chu wrote that the establishment would be acceptable only to a “white person who has no clue what mochi is.”
“I will never be able to look at her in the same way. She needs to formally apologize in person to the college,” the student said. “Dean Chu is trained in human development and psychology so should clearly understand the gravity of her actions, yet the fact that she would put such things on the Internet shows that she really should not be in a position of advising students.”
In February, Chu removed her reviews of Koto Japanese Steakhouse and Criterion Cinemas after Davis informed her that they had offended students, she wrote in her email. Davis did not respond to a request for comment.
Chu declined to comment specifically on her reviews, but told the News that she is grateful to be a part of the Pierson community and is looking forward to seeing seniors this week, both to hear their responses and to celebrate their graduation.
“I am concerned about the shadow that my actions have thrown on my efforts to create an environment in Pierson that respects everyone, and I am especially concerned that it could prevent anyone from coming to me for the support that I offer to all Pierson students,” Chu wrote. “I see that I now have work to do to repair the trust you have all shown me.”
Shortly after Chu circulated her apology, Davis sent a follow-up email underscoring Chu’s remorse for her use of “insensitive” language. He also called on Pierson students to share their thoughts on how best to move forward.
“I welcome thoughts from all of you regarding what you’d like to see as next steps, with an eye toward strengthening our bonds, even as we find ourselves, for the moment, at a physical distance,” Davis wrote.
One Pierson student, who requested anonymity, said Chu’s comments convey a bias against certain groups of students who call Pierson college home. He added that the remarks jeopardize Chu’s capacity to properly execute her job as a steward of the college community.
“If I had heard these comments upon arriving to Yale as a freshman, the first thing I would have done is walked to Pierson College and demanded a residential college transfer form,” the student said.
Chu was appointed Pierson dean in May 2016.