We were deeply troubled by the news (“Dining hall worker loses job after smashing Calhoun windowpane, Jul. 11, 2016”) of Mr. Corey Menafee’s arrest and subsequent loss of his Yale dining hall job after he broke a stained glass window. The window depicted enslaved black people picking cotton. Mr. Menafee was understandably tired of having to work in an environment decorated with these idealized images of slavery—images that were, as Mr. Menafee said, “racist” and “very degrading.” Mr. Menafee is now facing criminal charges.
We understand that Yale values its property. However, the property in question invoked precisely the kind of racist imagery and legacy that the university is so publicly trying to work against. In fact, the Head of College’s decision to remove and store additional stained glass windows in the wake of Mr. Menafee’s action suggests that the Yale administration agrees with Mr. Menafee that it is time for this kind of offensive public art to be banished from campus. We do not believe that this necessary change should come at the expense of Mr. Menafee’s job and record.
Only last week, President Peter Salovey reminded us that “diversity and inclusion are core values at Yale.” And at a protest at the New Haven County Courthouse, Yale students from different racial and ethnic backgrounds testified to the ways Mr. Menafee put these values into practice during his time working in their college. We believe that offering Mr. Menafee his job back would be a significant and concrete way for the Yale administration to put these core values into practice as well. Because the truth is that asking black workers (staff and faculty) and black students to work and live alongside pastoral portrayals of slavery is an act of violent exclusion. We hope that administrators take this opportunity to show that Yale is ready for the hard work that achieving real diversity requires.
Briallen Hopper is a lecturer in the English department and Dixa Ramírez is an assistant professor in the American Studies and Ethnicity, Race, and Migration departments.