A dining hall worker’s decision to break a windowpane depicting slaves carrying bales of cotton was sparked by a conversation with a Yale alumnus two weeks earlier, according to a police record of the incident.
The report, obtained by Buzzfeed, was filed by the Yale University Police Department June 13, the day Corey Menafee — a Yale employee of nearly nine years — took a broomstick and shoved the panel out of a window in the Calhoun College dining hall. In the report, Menafee told officers that two weeks prior to the incident, he had met a Yale alumnus and the man’s 10-year-old daughter in Calhoun during class reunions.
“The alumnus alerted Mr. Menafee to the ‘racist, discriminatory painting on the window,’” Yale police officer D.J. Rainville writes in the report. “He said the painting depicted a dark colored male and dark colored female carrying baskets over their heads, while walking through the cotton fields of the Confederate South and that ‘no employee should be subject to coming to work and seeing slave portraits on a daily basis.’”
That conversation followed a year of impassioned debate over Calhoun, named after fervent slavery advocate and Yale College alum John C. Calhoun, class of 1804. And its aftermath — Menafee’s resignation and the filing of criminal charges — has reignited debate across campus and the broader community.
Two charges filed by Yale police after the incident, a class-B misdemeanor of reckless endangerment and a class-D felony charge of criminal mischief, will likely be dropped as Yale has requested from the state attorney, according to University officials and the state attorney’s office. Menafee’s next appearance in the state superior court is set for July 26.
Menafee, who resigned after the incident, is in the process of obtaining a copy of resignation agreement, his lawyer Patricia Kane said. The University has denied that Menafee resigned in exchange for Yale declining to press charges.
University President Peter Salovey said Yale has worked with Menafee and Local 35, Yale’s blue-collar union which is representing him, to “resolve this issue compassionately.”
According to the report, Yale dining hall general manager Gina Gentile called Yale police at 9:07 a.m. June 13, saying that Menafee, who is African-American, had told her he broke the window because “he did not like what the window stood for because it had the image of a slave in a field on it.”
Another employee told police that she had seen Menafee climb on a table to reach the window, which is about 15 feet off the ground and faces Elm Street.
Gentile told police that Menafee was “non-combative” and went back to work after breaking the panel.
Police also spoke with dining hall manager Samuel Feliciano and Menafee at the scene. Officers discovered that Menafee had been working in the Calhoun dining hall since December 2015. Both managers described Menafee as a “very good employee” who had “not given cause for serious discipline in the past.”
Menafee told the officers that he had broken the window and would take full responsibility for his actions, before relaying the anecdote about the alumnus who first pointed out the window to him.
Menafee told police he had gotten tired of looking at the window.
“It had to go,” he said, according to the report.
A passerby had witnessed the shattering of the window from the exterior of the building and reported it to Gentile out of concern that someone would be hurt, the report said.
Rainville collected 27 shards of glass from the window, which is valued in the report at $2,500. Yale is not seeking restitution for the window.
The report states that Local 35 union steward Tyisha Walker, Yale Human Resources generalist Christine Hayden and Gentile met with Menafee to discuss “work related ramifications of this incident.”
“Facing termination and worrying about providing for his family, Mr. Menafee chose to resign,” Local 35 President Bob Proto said in a statement. “The union stood with Mr. Menafee through this terrible ordeal, and we will stand with him again if Yale is willing to discuss a pathway for Mr. Menafee to return to a Yale University job.”
Kane said Tuesday that Menafee wants to return to Yale.
“My client liked his job and his colleagues and wants his job back,” she said. “He just wants to work in an environment that leaves him free to focus on his work instead of being exposed to distressing images.”
Yale Vice President for Communications Eileen O’Connor declined to comment on whether there was a chance that Yale might rehire Menafee, according to the New Haven Independent.
More than 700 people have contributed over $20,000 total to a GoFundMe page created for Menafee on Tuesday. Proceeds from the fund — created by Columbia junior Bianca Brooks along with Akintunde Ahmad ‘18, Ivetty Estepan ’18 and Kane — will go directly to Menafee for the purpose of assisting him and his family while he is unemployed.
On Wednesday, Calhoun Head of College Julia Adams also emailed students in the college, telling them she had written a letter to Menafee to convey the care and sentiments of Calhoun students to him. She met with Calhoun dining and custodial staff last week to offer her support, she wrote.
“Our community continues to experience difficult and challenging times,” Adams wrote in the email. “These events, as well as those at Yale over the past year and a half, are taking place in the context of overlapping crises — in the original sense of turning points — for the nation. Calhoun College is our intimate home away from home, but it also seems consistently at the epicenter, and in ways that none of us could have fully anticipated, even given the turbulence of the debates about renaming, built forms and public art.”
Adams announced last week that a set of windows in the Calhoun common room depicting John C. Calhoun will be removed, while the college’s dining hall will be renamed to honor Roosevelt Thompson ’84.