Yale Dishwasher Broke Window Depicting Slaves: 'No One Has To Be Exposed To That Anymore'
A Yale dishwasher smashed a stained-glass window depicting slaves in a cotton field and went to court this past week to face charges. NPR's Lynn Neary speaks with Corey Menafee about the incident.
LYNN NEARY, HOST: Corey Menafee was in court last week for charges of reckless endangerment and criminal mischief. His crime? Breaking a stained-glass window on the campus of Yale University. The window? A depiction of slaves picking cotton. The window was in the dining hall of Yale's Calhoun College, where students demonstrated unsuccessfully this year to have the name of the college changed. John C. Calhoun was a slaveholder and an advocate for white supremacy. Corey Menafee was working in the dining hall as a dishwasher on June 13 when he decided the window had to go.
COREY MENAFEE: The image was brought to my attention - was, like, two weeks prior to the incident - by an alum. It was reunion weekend, came in with his 10-year-old daughter. He was - start telling us how things used to be when he was an undergrad. And then he mentioned that image was there way back, like, 10 years ago when he was there as a student, and he said it's still there. I mean, you can only imagine the type of emotions that run through an African-American, if I can say that, seeing a picture of two slaves - two actual slaves picking cotton.
NEARY: Was there anything else happening on the campus? Were you aware of some of the protests about the name of Calhoun College? Did any of that enter into it as well?
MENAFEE: Yeah, I was aware of all the controversy behind the name John Calhoun and what he represented. However, I don't want to go ahead and necessarily say that that contributed to what I did. I just simply got tired of looking at that image. I don't know, you just get fed up. It gets to a point where it's like, enough's enough. I don't know. I think it's like Edgar Allen Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart." It was sitting in the corner of the room ticking away subconsciously - somewhere in my subconscious.
NEARY: What happened right - immediately afterwards?
MENAFEE: Yeah, I was confronted by my boss who asked me, you know - why did you do that? You know, you just damaged Yale property. Like, what is wrong with you? Why did you do that? My response was it looks a lot better.
NEARY: Did they ask you to leave the campus or...
MENAFEE: Immediately after, I (laughter) - I went into the bathroom, and I actually shaved because I knew what was coming next. I wanted to be clean-shaven before I got in front of any type of authority figure to confront me about what I did.
NEARY: But as I understand it, Yale is telling prosecutors they don't want to press charges, right?
MENAFEE: Right. That's what I'm understanding, too. But nothing has been officially decided.
NEARY: But you did have to resign from your position.
MENAFEE: That is true.
NEARY: Some people are now urging the university to give you your job back. Do you - would you want your job back if they offered it to you?
MENAFEE: I would love my job back if it were offered to me. I mean, looking back at the situation, it was a very juvenile thing to do. There's way better ways you can handle problems than just smashing something physically.
NEARY: You did bring attention to something that Yale was already considering. Apparently, Yale was already considering assessing the art on campus, artwork that might be offensive, and that window is one of the things they were looking at replacing. And they are going to replace it. Does that give you some satisfaction at all?
MENAFEE: The fact that that image is no longer there gives me satisfaction. No one has to be exposed to that anymore.
NEARY: Corey Menafee formerly worked at Yale University. Corey, thanks so much for talking with us.
MENAFEE: You're welcome.