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After Breaking Window, Yale Dining Hall Worker Hailed As Local Hero

A dining hall employee at Yale University shattered a stained-glass window with a broomstick last month at Calhoun College and faces criminal charges. Now he’s become a hero for people who want the university to change the college’s name.

On Tuesday Corey Menafee made his first appearance for charges of reckless endangerment and criminal mischief. Outside the courthouse, Menafee was greeted with chants from students and anti-racism activists yelling, “Corey is our hero.”

Menafee told reporters outside New Haven Superior Court on Tuesday that he probably shouldn't have broken the window, but he found the image disturbing.

The image was of two slaves carrying cotton.

“It’s just, you know, you get tired of looking at a degrading image every day.”   

Menafee’s lawyer, Patricia Kane, says her client will be pleading not guilty and will be requesting a jury trial.

“If you were Jewish and there were pictures of people working happily in a concentration camp would you have problems with that? Most people would. That’s what it is for people of color. It’s a wonder he took so long to snap, I would have snapped a long time ago.”

In the hearing, attorney Kane said Yale University had agreed not to press charges against Menafee. Yale said in a statement that they called the state’s attorney’s office and asked them not to pursue charges.

But Superior Court Judge Phillip Scarpellino said only the prosecutor can decide whether or not to pursue charges once a complaint has been made. Menafee’s plea of not-guilty will be entered on July 26.

Outside the courthouse, New Haven resident Brian Jarawa Gray said that Menafee may not have gone about it right, but by getting rid of the window, he had performed a service.

“There’s a few more that need to be taken down. I’ve been seeing those for decades, and finally someone has initiated something, the intention to get that stuff down.”

Angelina Xing, a student at Yale in Calhoun College, agrees.

“Corey Menafee did something that all of us wanted to happen, which was the removal of these racist images if the administration is not willing to do so. And that includes changing the name.”

“Changing the name.” See, Calhoun College is named after John C. Calhoun, a 19th century vice president who vigorously defended slavery. Last summer, Yale students petitioned the university to change Calhoun College’s name.

Katherine Demby, who graduated from the law school this year, was a co-founder of the petition. She said, “These issues sort of pile on to each other.”

But this spring Yale said Calhoun College would keep its name, as a way to confront its history. Dembly said, “I hope that the resolution of this will cause Yale to reconsider and think more about its legacy.”

In a statement, Yale said they were going to move other stained glass pieces in the dining hall glorifying Calhoun and put them in the Yale art gallery. Yale didn't have a comment about people who hope this will lead the school to change Calhoun College’s name.

Menafee, the dining hall employee, no longer works at Yale.

 

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Kathie is a former editor at WSHU.