Light & Verity

Employee rehired after breaking Calhoun window

An image of slaves in a cotton field rankled a dining hall worker.

Courtesy New Haven Independent

Courtesy New Haven Independent

This stained-glass panel was in a window in Calhoun College before it was broken by a worker in June. View full image

It all started with a visiting alumnus, as Calhoun College dishwasher Corey Menafee would later explain to police. In town for a reunion, the alum stopped by the Calhoun dining hall and pointed out the image, in one of the dining hall’s windows, of a black man and woman picking cotton. About two weeks later, on June 13, Menafee, who is African American, stood on a table and broke the window with a broomstick. “No employee should be subject to coming to work and seeing slave portraits on a daily basis,” Menafee told police.

Menafee, who has worked at Yale since 2007, was charged with criminal mischief and reckless endangerment. He resigned from his job after the incident. Nearly a month later, the New Haven Independent reported on his arrest and resignation, and many in the Yale and New Haven community spoke out in his support. The incident came after a year of sometimes heated discussion about racial issues on campus—not least the debate over whether to rename Calhoun College, which is named for a prominent nineteenth-century politician and ardent advocate of slavery.

Menafee told the Independent that although his action could be considered civil disobedience, “there’s always better ways of doing things like that than just destroying things. It wasn’t my property, and I had no right to do it.” In the end, the charges were dropped, and Yale offered Menafee another job. As part of an agreement among Menafee, his union, and the university, the parties said they would make no further public statements about the matter. Menafee returned to work on July 25.

Calhoun head of college Julia Adams announced in July that the illustrated windows in the dining hall and common room, including those referencing Calhoun’s life, will be removed for conservation and study. The dining hall has been named to honor Roosevelt Thompson ’84, a much-admired African American Calhoun alumnus who died in a car accident in his senior year.

1 comment

  • Barnaby Conrad III
    Barnaby Conrad III, 10:37am September 07 2016 | Ico flag Flag as inappropriate

    Mr. Menafee, the black diningroom worker in Calhoun College, felt offended by a stained glass window that depicted a black man and woman carrying large baskets of cotton on their heads. So he broke the window and justified his action by saying, "No employee should be subject to coming to work and seeing slave portraits on a daily basis." Mr. Menafee might be interested to know that poor white farmers also worked the cotton fields and still do where I live in Virginia, albeit with machines. Here's a modest proposal a la Jonathan Swift: As Yale seems bent on changing college names and removing "micro-aggressions", perhaps a talented restorer from Yale's conservation staff could simply lighten the complexion of the offending cotton-pickers and everyone would be happy.

    Barnaby Conrad III, Yale, B.A. 1975

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