The Yale Dishwasher Who Took A Stand Against Racist Imagery Might Get His Job Back

This is a view of Calhoun College, one of the 12 residential colleges at Yale University that houses undergraduates, as seen Friday, Feb. 2, 2007, in New Haven, Conn. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/BOB CHILD
This is a view of Calhoun College, one of the 12 residential colleges at Yale University that houses undergraduates, as seen Friday, Feb. 2, 2007, in New Haven, Conn. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/BOB CHILD

Amid recent protests against police brutality across the country, Yale University said it is prepared to rehire Corey Menafee, the former black dishwasher who smashed a stained-glass window depicting racist imagery and then resigned shortly after.

The incident took place in mid-June, when Menafee shattered a stained-glass panel in the residential Calhoun College dining hall that featured slaves working in a cotton field. Menafee told the New Haven Independent that he broke the panel because he was tired of the “racist” and “very degrading” image. Shortly after, Menafee apologized for his actions and resigned from his job on the grounds that the university would clear his employment history and drop the felony charges against him.

Now, about a month after resigning, Yale is offering Menafee his job back. According to a statement released Tuesday by the university, Menafee will be allowed to return to the university in a different position and setting, starting on Monday.

“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,” the statement read.

Prior to the university’s announcement, Menafee and his union representatives had asked the university to rehire Menafee on several conditions, one being the removal of other windows depicting similar racist imagery from Calhoun College. The statement from Yale, however, did not mention anything about removing other racists images from the campus.

According to The Daily Beast, Menafee’s attorney Patricia Kane said if Yale refuses to consider these conditions, Menafee has the grounds to file a discrimination or hostile work environment claim against the university with the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunity.

“He’s an intelligent man and he knows those images should have been taken down a long time ago,” Kane said.

As Universities Become More Diverse, Debates Over Buildings Honoring White Supremacists GrowEducation CREDIT: Bob Child, AP There’s been ongoing debate on university campuses about whether the names of…thinkprogress.orgTo win a lawsuit against the university, Menafee would would have to prove that the presence of racist imagery severely altered his employment and created an abusive working environment.

Menafee’s defiant window-breaking follows a wave of protests that began last fall, when students demanded that Yale remove the name Calhoun College from its campus. The residential college is named after John C. Calhoun, a 19th century politician who doggedly opposed the abolition of slavery and believed it was a “common good.”

In response to the protests, the university removed three portraits of Calhoun from residential spaces in January. But despite this, the university announced in April that it would still keep the Calhoun name. Instead, President Peter Salovey said the university would name its two newest residential colleges after Anna Pauline Murray and Benjamin Franklin. Murray, who was a civil rights activist and the first black woman ordained to the Episcopal priesthood, will become the first African American woman in Yale’s history to have a college named after her. The selection of Franklin drew some ire from students, as the founding father was a slaveowner before fighting for abolition.

In addition, the university announced it will no longer refer to leaders of the residential colleges as “masters,” and will instead call them “heads of college.” The change reflected a small step forward in recognizing the discomfort many students felt about the college’s racist history.

The university also said it will begin an initiative examining “lesser-known people, events and narratives behind the familiar facades seen on campus.” As part of the initiative, the Committee on Art in Public Spaces was tasked with looking at controversial art on campus, including the stained-glass panel Menafee broke.

Following Menafee’s actions in June, the committee recommended that several other panels be removed and replaced, according to a university statement provided to The Daily Beast. Head of Calhoun College Julia Adams then announced via email that the dining hall would be renamed in honor of Roosevelt Thompson, a Yale alumnus.

Yale’s announcement comes amid nationwide protests demanding justice against police violence, and when asked if these events pushed Menafee to fight for his job, Kane told The Daily Beast he “understands the context of what’s going on nationally.”

Celisa Calacal is an intern with ThinkProgress.

Update:

On Wednesday, prosecutors dropped the charges of felony criminal mischief and misdemeanor reckless endangerment against Menafee. Prosecutor David Strollo said there was no reason to pursue the case any further. Prior to this decision, Menafee returned to work at the university.