A Yale University employee is out of a job, and the school is out a window, after he used a broomstick to smash a stained-glass window he complained was racist.
Until recently, Thomas Menafee worked as a dishwasher for Yale. But he says he grew enraged that, while working at Yale’s Calhoun College, he had to see a stained glass window which shows black laborers harvesting cotton. The window, he said, was an offensive portrayal of slavery, and so on June 13 he impulsively decided to eliminate it by force.
“I took a broomstick, and it was kind of high, and I climbed up and reached up and broke it,” he told the New Haven Independent. “It’s 2016, I shouldn’t have to come to work and see things like that.”
Menafee’s stunt was quickly discovered, and he responded by resigning his post with the college. In return, the college is not seeking compensation for the destruction and has requested that Menafee not be prosecuted.
Nevertheless, Menafee appeared in court Tuesday on a felony charge of criminal mischief along with a misdemeanor charge of reckless endangerment, stemming from the fact that the window nearly injured a passing pedestrian when it came tumbling out. Menafee didn’t enter a plea Tuesday and his next appearance was set for late July, by which point the charges may be dropped.
Menafee’s destructive act is the latest incident in the saga over Calhoun College, one of Yale’s residential colleges. The college is named for John C. Calhoun, an alumnus and South Carolina senator who was a major slavery advocate in the decades before the Civil War. Recently, activists have pushed for Yale to rename the college, while others have said renaming the college would be rewriting history for political reasons.
In April, the school announced Calhoun’s name would stay, but that it would attempt to censor any images of Calhoun so that they will not be triggering to black students. Notably, several stained glass windows portraying Calhoun himself are scheduled to be removed before the fall semester.
Because Menafee says his destruction was motivated by anti-racism, he has won the support of New Haven racial activists.
“What is more valuable to Yale: a stained-glass window of enslaved people picking cotton, or the humanity of the African-American people who work at Yale?” said John Jairo Lugo of the group Unidad Latina en Accion.
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