A Yale dishwasher was arrested by New Haven police on June 13 and lost his job after he smashed a stained-glass windowpane in Calhoun College that depicted slaves picking cotton.
Corey Menafee, who is African-American, told the New Haven Independent he knocked the panel out with a broomstick because he no longer wanted to see the “racist, very degrading” image. Yale spokesman Tom Conroy said the windowpane fell into the street and shattered, endangering a person passing by.
The broken window follows a year of debate over the name of Calhoun College — named after Yale College alum and slavery advocate John C. Calhoun — with hundreds of students and faculty demanding the name be changed on the grounds that it is racially insensitive. In April, University President Peter Salovey announced that the college would keep its name.
Images of Calhoun around the college and scenes of slavery like those in the stained-glass window have become focal points in a debate over slavery’s legacy at Yale, and the college is set to remove several planes of glass depicting Calhoun before the fall semester starts. But Menafee said his decision to break the window had nothing to do with student protests.
“I took a broomstick, and it was kind of high, and I climbed up and reached up and broke it,” he told the New Haven Independent. “It’s 2016, I shouldn’t have to come to work and see things like that.”
Menafee was charged with second-degree reckless endangerment and first-degree criminal mischief, a felony. He was released from police custody and is scheduled to appear in court Tuesday.
In Connecticut, property damage in excess of $1,500 can warrant a first-degree criminal mischief charge. If convicted of the charge, Menafee could face one to five years in prison and fines up to $5,000.
Second-degree reckless endangerment, a misdemeanor, is punishable by up to two years in prison and fines up to $1,000.
The University is not seeking restitution for the damaged pane, which was replaced with clear glass, Yale is not advocating that Menafee be prosecuted, Conroy said.
Menafee apologized for his actions and resigned from the University, Conroy said.
Calhoun Head of College Julia Adams, who announced the removal of other window panes last week, said in an email to the college last week that “the damage to one of the windows” in the dining hall had spurred a review by Yale’s Committee on Art in Public Spaces.
Menafee told the Independent that he was not aware of the prominence of the slave owner’s legacy in the college art and architecture. He has not filed a plea yet.
“It could be termed as civil disobedience,” Menafee said. “But 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.”
Still, Yale students opposed to Calhoun’s namesake were quick to express support for Menafee. Hours after the Independent first reported the story, Yale students took to social media, with some expressing anger over the charges and celebrating the action, while others argued that the destruction of Yale property was not an appropriate way to express frustration.
A demonstration is planned for 10 a.m. Tuesday on the steps of the New Haven Courthouse.
“When you see something so public and so in front of your face, and the University doesn’t want to change the name of the college, people do things,” said John Lugo, the leader of the New Haven social justice group Unidad Latina en Accion, which held a protest in front of Calhoun College earlier this spring.
Lugo said he views Menafee’s action not so much as a criminal act, but as a statement of resistance against racism at Yale.
“I would do the same thing,” Lugo said.
Menafee holds a degree in mass communications from Virginia Union University and has two children.