Yale Reverses Course On Symbols Of White Supremacy

02/03/2017 10:55 pm ET Updated Feb 06, 2017
Activists block an intersection adjacent to Yale’s Calhoun College in August, 2016. The residential hall is named for John C.
Catherine John
Activists block an intersection adjacent to Yale’s Calhoun College in August, 2016. The residential hall is named for John C. Calhoun, a former U.S. Vice President and ardent advocate of slavery.

Months after a dining hall worker broke a window glorifying slavery at Yale’s Calhoun’s college, the university appears to be reversing course on its official position on racist symbols from the past.

The symbols in question surround Calhoun College: the residential hall named for former vice president and avid proponent of slavery John C. Calhoun. Also at issue is a plethora of art on campus, including a suite of stained glass windows that commemorate his life.

In December, the 12 member panel known as The Committee to Establish Principle on Renaming released a 24 page report laying the groundwork for the school to rename Calhoun. Next week a Task force will meet to recommend a new name for the building, The Yale Daily News reported on Thursday.

In April, Yale committed to examine its art after a yearlong campaign from NEXT YALE, but flatly refused to change the name of the residential hall. In a letter to the Yale community, university president Peter Salovey said it was important to keep the name to remember the legacy of slavery.

“After a careful review of student and alumni responses, scholarly views, and public commentary—which were exceptionally thoughtful, measured, and helpful on all aspects of the question—it became evident that renaming could have the opposite effect of the one intended,” Salovey wrote in a campus-wide e-mail. “Removing Calhoun’s name obscures the legacy of slavery rather than addressing it.”

That was supposedly the end of it, until Corey Menaffee, a Yale dishwasher, took a broom and knocked out a stained glass window in Calhoun College that depicted slaves carrying bales of cotton.

After the window was broken, the college removed “a ‘suite’ in the Common Room devoted to Calhoun himself, and several windows in the dining hall, including the remains of the shattered one and one that included a Black minstrel,” according to Calhoun head Julia Adams.

Maya Jenkins, an activist with the Black Student Alliance at Yale and resident of Calhoun College, told the Huffington Post in October that the university’s slow and measured response to student outrage over the name was an attempt to co-opt the movement.

“I think the creation of these committees is an attempt to re-write history. If they change the name, in the collective memory it came from the committee, it came from this bureaucratic, tame, well reasoned argument,” Jenkins said in a telephone interview. “There was a lot of salience to the fact that it was a black Yale employee who broke that stained glass window and was then arrested for it.”

In July, Menafee’s actions became public when Yale had him arrested and pressed charges against him. The arrest made Menaffee a national sensation, and over thirty thousand dollars had been raised for him in less than a month. The university decided to drop criminal charges and re-hire Menafee in a different dining hall. In return, Menafee agreed he would never speak of the incident to media again.

Catherine John, a 37 year old New Haven resident who used to work in the payment processing division of Yale Medical group, led protests outside the dining throughout the summer. When asked if she had ever been contacted for input from the committee, she laughed.

“Really? Hell no. But if they wanted our input, they’d know where to find us.”

The Task Force will meet next week to propose new names for the building.

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