The former Yale dining hall worker who smashed a slavery-themed window in Calhoun College last month plans to formally request reinstatement to his job through his union.
On June 13, Corey Menafee, an African-American Yale employee of nearly nine years, used a broomstick to shatter a windowpane depicting slaves picking cotton in the Calhoun College dining hall. Arrested that day, Menafee later resigned, while the Yale police department filed two criminal charges. Although those charges are expected to be dropped July 26, Menafee — a 38-year-old father of two — remains unemployed. He will lose his health insurance benefits at the end of the month, he said.
“I would love to have my job back,” Menafee said in an interview with the News Friday afternoon.
The incident and its aftermath follow a year of intense controversy surrounding Calhoun, named after passionate slavery advocate and Yale College alum John C. Calhoun, class of 1804. In spite of significant student protest, University President Peter Salovey announced in April that Yale will not rename Calhoun.
Menafee’s lawyer, Patricia Kane of New Haven, said that although she and her client are grateful that Yale is dropping the charges, that action alone will not “bring a good outcome.”
“Real justice would involve putting him back in the job that he was good at,” Kane said. “So what we’re trying to do is establish a dialogue with Yale.”
Yale Vice President for Communications Eileen O’Connor told the News Friday afternoon that a representative for Menafee has contacted Yale and the two parties are in a process of setting up a meeting.
Kane said she hopes that by next week, the parties will be be able to “work out a resolution where both sides come out satisfied with the outcome.” For her client, that means getting his job back, she said.
And for Yale, such a resolution will show alumni, students and faculty that the University is sensitive to the issues raised by images such as the one Menafee broke, Kane said.
“Our union’s priority is fighting for Mr. Menafee to get his job back, and we’re ready to sit down with Peter Salovey if he’ll agree to work out a pathway for Mr. Menafee to return to a Yale University job,” said Local 35 president Bob Proto in a statement Friday afternoon.
Menafee has also obtained a copy of his resignation agreement. According to Kane, the agreement only specifies that Yale would not seek restitution for the window, valued at $2,500 in a police incident report. The document does not include a quid pro quo in which Menafee would resign for Yale not to pursue charges, Kane confirmed.
Kane said her client had been under the mistaken impression that if he resigned, Yale would not press charges in return.
Yale contacted the state attorney’s office to drop the charges Tuesday.
Menafee’s decision to break the window and its consequences have reverberated across campus and the wider community. Dozens of supporters met him on the steps of the New Haven courthouse before his first court date July 12, and an open letter to Salovey urging Menafee’s reinstatement has nearly 850 signatures, mostly from Yale students and alumni.
A GoFundMe page created for the former employee July 12 is now less than $2,000 shy of its $25,000 goal, with nearly 800 individual donations. Proceeds from the fund — created by Columbia junior Bianca Brooks along with Akintunde Ahmad ‘18, Ivetty Estepan ’18 and Kane — will assist Menafee and his family while he is unemployed.
“I embrace the support as long as it’s nonviolent,” Menafee said. “All around the world, people are just ringing in their support and how good they feel about what I’ve done. That in itself is rewarding, to know what I’ve done is not frowned upon by the public.”
On Wednesday morning, Salovey emailed the Yale community, writing that the incident had “stirred powerful feelings.”
“This situation was regrettable for all concerned, and I want to assure you that we have worked to resolve it with compassion,” Salovey wrote. “We can empathize with the feelings of those who find the art in their workplace to be offensive, even as we condemn actions that endanger the safety of others.”
Menafee acknowledged he was wrong for breaking the window, adding that it was not acceptable behavior. He advised others who disagreed with imagery such as that of the windowpane to “take a different approach.”
A police report obtained by Buzzfeed revealed that Menafee was alerted to the window through a conversation with an alumnus two weeks prior to the incident. The alumnus had told Menafee that “no employee should be subject to coming to work and seeing slave portraits on a daily basis,” according to the report.
“To bring about some type of change — and obviously I’m not the only one who felt the need for that to picture to be removed — does feel good because I was able to do something that a lot of people wanted done,” Menafee said.
Last week, Calhoun Head of College Julia Adams announced that a set of windows in the Calhoun common room depicting John C. Calhoun will be removed. These windows will be conserved for study and future exhibitions.