University questions Cholmondeley’s past interview practices
Multiple students who interviewed for positions at Cholmondeley’s came forward during the fall 2013 semester with allegations of inappropriate practices in the hiring process.
According to two students who were interviewed by Chum’s student staff for positions at Chum’s prior to the fall 2013 semester, questions during the interviews—which were conducted—included: “Who would you f*ck/marry/kill in this room?” and “If you could have sex with an animal what animal would it be, and why?”
In an email to the Justice, Assistant Dean of Students and Director of Student Activities Stephanie Grimes wrote that the Student Activities department—which oversees Chum’s—was “notified last fall  about inappropriate interview questions being asked during the … Coffeehouse interview process. Members of the [Student Activities] staff investigated the situation and discovered concerns with the process.”
The Justice spoke with the two students who came forward about their interview experiences in the fall. One student was interviewed for a position at Chum’s during the 2010 to 2011 academic year, while the second was interviewed during the fall 2012 semester. Both students have asked to remain anonymous. According to both of their accounts, during the Chum’s interview process, student members of Chum’s staff asked questions pertaining to sexual preferences, as well as other personal details that the interviewees who spoke to the Justice deemed irrelevant to the prospective position.
The student who underwent the Chum’s interview process during the 2010 to 2011 academic year, and asked for anonymity out of privacy concerns, recalls being asked, “Who would you f*ck/marry/kill in this room?” and said that there were about five members of Chum’s student staff interviewing her for the position.
Under Massachusetts law on pre-employment inquiries, or the interviewing process, employers are prohibited from asking about a job applicant’s “race, color, religious creed, national origin, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, genetic information, age (40 and older), ancestry, or disability” unless such questions relate directly to the job. Appropriate pre-employment inquiries include “questions about previous work experience, job-related education and training, relevant personal characteristics, job-related military service and authorization to work in the United States.”
“I remember very few questions actually relating to the job. I don’t think there was any reference to any of my previous job experience. It felt like they were weeding out the right kinds of personality. It felt like they were trying to find someone to include into their friend group who would feel comfortable answering questions like [who would you f*ck/marry/kill in this room]?,” the student who was interviewed during the 2010 to 2011 academic year said.
She added that the five student interviewers were sitting in a semi-circle, and described the process as somewhat “intimidating.” “I hesitated a lot,” she said. “I answered but I really didn’t want to. I was thinking about how I’m clearly not the kind of person who they would want for this job… because I wasn’t comfortable answering that,” she said.
This student said she felt particularly uncomfortable seeing the students whom she had pointed out after being asked whom, among the interviewers, she would “f*ck/marry/kill.” She said that this question could be particularly problematic for students who do not feel comfortable revealing their sexual orientation.
Although this student was interviewed by Chum’s staff during the 2010 to 2011 academic year, these types of questions were part of the interview process the following year, as well, another student stated.
A student who was interviewed for a position at Chum’s during fall 2012, and asked to remain anonymous out of fear of retribution, said in an interview with the Justice that among the questions asked during the Chum’s interview were: “If you could have sex with an animal which animal would it be and why?” and “Who would you f*ck/marry/kill in this room?” The student recounted being interviewed by seven members of the staff.
The Justice reached out to Chum’s current general manager for comment on the allegations. However, Chum’s staff gave a unified response to the request through the business’ Facebook account, which is listed under the name “Cholmondeley’s Coffee House.” Their response read:
“We find Chum’s to be a truly unique space at Brandeis and an asset to the community… We constantly seek to cultivate this unique and judgment free zone that feels safe and open to all students. Actualizing these values is a process that requires constant growth and reflection. …We have worked hard amongst ourselves to address our shortcomings and are thankful for the support from the Brandeis administration and student body in doing so in this ongoing process.”
Chum’s staff members did not respond to multiple requests for comment to clarify the nature of the addressed “shortcomings.”
According to Grimes, the two anonymous students who interviewed for positions at Chum’s reported the interview tactics in fall 2013.
Following the reports of the incidents, Chum’s was shut down for a few days “in order to … ensure appropriate action,” Grimes said.
The department of Student Activities “worked with the student staff to educate them on appropriate employment processes and other training from which … they would benefit,” as well as the “current student employees to amend their search process and a member of Student Activities sat on the interviewing team,” wrote Grimes.
One of the students who spoke with the Justice about the Chum’s interview process said she believes this case should have been treated as a sexual harassment case.
In an interview with the Justice, Dean of Students Jamele Adams said that the Special Examiner’s Process—which is used in University cases involving sexual harassment, as mandated by the Student Rights and Responsibilities Handbook—was not used in this case.
Although Grimes did not respond to repeated requests to specify what the re-training process entailed and if other measures were taken following the incident, she initially wrote that the department of Student Activities “will continue to work with the employment process of Chumley’s (sic.) and all other student businesses to ensure that appropriate and professional environments are provided to our community.”