Officials at Yale University said an African-American dishwasher who admitted to smashing what he called a “racist, very degrading” stained-glass window at the school in mid-June will be allowed to return to work in a different position, though the man’s attorney claims the two sides have not reached any agreement.
In the weeks after the incident, 38-year-old Corey Menafee said he felt pressured to resign for using a broomstick to break a windowpane that depicted slaves picking cotton. Since then, he has been vocal about his desire to get his job back.
“I would love my job back if it were offered to me,” Menafee told NPR.
“I mean, looking back at the situation, it was a very juvenile thing to do,” he said about the incident. “There’s way better ways you can handle problems than just smashing something physically.”
The university announced Tuesday that it was “willing to grant his request for a second chance at Yale” starting next week, after serving an unpaid five-week suspension.
“We are willing to take these unusual steps given the unique circumstances of this matter, and it is now up to Mr. Menafee whether he wishes to return to Yale,” university spokeswoman Karen Peart said in a statement.
But Menafee’s attorney, Patricia Kane, told The Washington Post on Tuesday in a telephone interview that the university’s statement was “totally inaccurate.” She said Menafee is still in negotiations with Yale.
“It’s totally inappropriate to represent this matter as being resolved when the parties haven’t even met to discuss a resolution,” Kane told The Post. “Everything is on the table for negotiation.”
The issue arose last month amid an ongoing nationwide debate over racist symbols on college campuses.
Menafee was helping to clean a dining hall at Calhoun College, which has been at the center of discussions about race, when he said he had the urge to break the window.
“It’s 2016; I shouldn’t have to come to work and see things like that,” he told the New Haven Independent, adding: “I just said, ‘That thing’s coming down today. I’m tired of it.’ I put myself in a position to do it, and did it.”
— Yale Daily News (@yaledailynews) July 12, 2016
Peart, the Yale spokeswoman, said earlier this month that the glass shattered, falling to the street and onto a passerby — but that the woman was not injured.
“The employee apologized for his actions and subsequently resigned from the university,” Peart said in a statement to The Post. “The university has requested that the State’s Attorney not press charges. Yale is also not seeking restitution.”
New Haven police spokesman David Hartman said the case was handled by Yale police. Authorities at the university did not respond to requests for comment.
A representative for the State’s Attorney confirmed to The Post on Tuesday that Yale had requested to drop Menafee’s charges, which include reckless endangerment and criminal mischief, but the decision is pending a court hearing July 26.
Menafee’s attorney said that he decided to resign after the incident rather than be terminated because he thought he would have an easier time finding a job. But he has since been in contact with union representatives, who are handling negotiations with the university to help him return, his attorney said.
Bob Proto, president of Menafee’s union, Local 35 United Here, said in a statement that Menafee and his representatives spoke Monday with Yale University.
“We stood firm in asking that the university rehire him,” he said in a statement to The Post. “We are now waiting on a draft agreement from Yale and will continue to stand with Mr. Menafee until he is back at work.”
Kane, Menafee’s attorney, said she wonders whether Yale’s statement about granting her client’s request was a “take it or leave it” regarding the terms. Yale did not immediately respond to questions about it.
“The issue isn’t going away,” Kane said.
After a mass shooting last year at a black church in Charleston, S.C. — and renewed anger and anxiety over historic symbols, statues and names tied to racism — people on some of the most elite campuses in America called for change.
At Princeton University, they wanted President Woodrow Wilson’s name removed from campus buildings because he was an adamant supporter of segregation. At the University of Mississippi, some wanted the state flag taken down because it contained the Confederate battle emblem. At the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and University of Texas at Austin, Confederate memorials were defaced in protest.
At Harvard Law School, they wanted the school’s crest to be redesigned. The crest — which displayed three sheaves of wheat — was also the coat-of-arms for a wealthy slaveholder named Isaac Royall Jr., who endowed Harvard’s first law professorship through his estate. This year, the Harvard Corporation voted to have the crest redone because it did not reflect the school’s values.
Yale students, alumni and faculty members, who were upset over the name of Calhoun College, also joined the fight, asking for an official change.
The college was named for John C. Calhoun, a Yale alumnus who served as vice president under John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson and was known for his impassioned defense of the slave-plantation system in the South.
“Calhoun College represents an indifference to centuries of pain and suffering among the black population,” according to a petition that started circulating across campus. “It conveys disrespect toward black perspectives, and serves a barrier toward racial inclusiveness. Calhoun College will always preclude minority students from feeling truly at home at Yale.”
In April, however, the university announced that it would keep the Calhoun College name.
The Yale Daily News reported earlier this month that Calhoun College told students in an email that it was making some changes, including removing some stained-glass windows portraying Calhoun from a common room and renaming the dining hall after another Yale alumnus, Roosevelt Thompson.
Julia Adams, head of Calhoun College, told the students that “the damage to one of the windows” had promoted a review by Yale’s Committee on Art in Public Spaces, according to the Yale Daily News.
In a statement to The Post, the university said:
As part of President Salovey’s initiative in April to review Yale’s history with regard to slavery, the Committee on Art in Public Spaces was charged to assess the windows in Calhoun and other art on campus. The Committee recommended in June that this window and some others be removed from Calhoun, conserved for future study and possible contextual exhibition, and replaced with tinted glass for the time being. An artist specializing in stained glass will be commissioned to design new windows, with input from the Yale community, including students, on what should replace them.
Menafee, the former employee, holds a degree in mass communications from Virginia Union University, a historically black college in Richmond, according to the Independent.
Virginia Union’s website states that the school “was founded in 1865 to give newly emancipated slaves an opportunity for education and advancement.” The school states on its site that it “is nourished by its African American heritage and energized by a commitment to excellence and diversity.”
In 2007, Menafee went to work at Yale, according to the Independent.
His recent resignation prompted plans for a demonstration earlier this month at the New Haven Courthouse.
“Yale: Put Corey Menafee back to work. Give him a hearing. Listen to him. Change the oppressive environment in which he works. Change the name of Calhoun College,” John Jairo Lugo of the social justice group Unidad Latina en Accion said in a statement to the Independent.
“What is more valuable to Yale: a stained glassed window of enslaved people picking cotton, or the humanity of the African American people who work at Yale?”
Still, Menafee told the newspaper that he now regrets what he did.
“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.”
This story, which was originally published July 12, has been updated.