article by Zoe Greenburg via nytimes.com
As Yale University continues to debate the legacy of John C. Calhoun, an alumnus and leading 19th–century politician and slaveholder for whom one of its residential colleges is named, the university said on Tuesday that it would not press charges in the case of a black dining hall worker who smashed a stained-glass panel depicting slaves carrying cotton.
The Yale police initially arrested the worker, Corey Menafee, 38, after he climbed on top of a table in the Calhoun College dining hall and smashed the window, one of several related to Calhoun and to slavery, with a broom handle.
The episode, which took place in mid-June but only recently garnered widespread attention, was first reported by The New Haven Independent.
“No employee should be subject to coming to work and seeing slave portraits on a daily basis,” Mr. Menafee told a police officer, according to the Yale Police Department’s incident report.
Mr. Menafee had worked at the university for about eight years and began working in Calhoun last December. Both of his managers told officers that he was a “very good employee.” He was charged with a misdemeanor for reckless endangerment in the second degree and a felony for criminal mischief in the first degree.
Thomas Conroy, a spokesman for Yale, said Mr. Menafee apologized and resigned after the episode. On Tuesday morning, Mr. Menafee appeared in court with Patricia Kane, a lawyer working pro bono on his behalf. Ms. Kane said he did not have a computer or a phone and could not be reached for comment.
Approximately 40 supporters, including Yale students and faculty members and community leaders, filed into the courtroom behind Mr. Menafee.
“Yale has to decide which is more valuable: a stained-glass window, or the dignity and humanity of the black people who live and work at Yale,” said Megan Fountain, an alumna and volunteer with the activist group Unidad Latina en Accion, which helped organize the rally.
Yale said in a statement on Tuesday that it had requested that the state’s attorney not press charges, and that the university would not be seeking restitution for the broken window. That request was not communicated to the prosecutor until after the court hearing, so another one was scheduled for July 26, when all charges will probably be dismissed, according to David Strollo, a supervisory assistant state’s attorney.
Yale also noted that after Mr. Menafee broke the window, a committee recommended that several windows related to slavery be removed and “conserved for future study and a possible contextual exhibition.”
The name of Calhoun College has long been the target of student activists, who say it celebrates a slave owner and makes minority students feel unwelcome. Yale’s president, Peter Salovey, announced in April that the university would keep the college’s name, “to confront, teach and learn from the history of slavery in the United States.”
The Independent quoted Mr. Menafee as regretful. “It could be termed as civil disobedience,” he 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, Mr. Menafee’s actions seem to resonate. A GoFundMe page and a Change.org petition were circulating widely as the story spread on social media; Yale Law students wrote an open letter to Mr. Salovey. Even Mr. Menafee’s lawyer seems stirred.
“Yes, there may be other ways to express protest, but something just got to him,” Ms. Kane said. “Sometimes you just have to stand up and take action.”