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Breaking (Bad) Glass: Yale University Reluctantly Changes Course
March 3, 2022 @ 8:00 am - March 5, 2022 @ 5:00 pm
The conference theme is Resistance and (Re)Generation. My presentation offers a reading of the use of stained glass at Yale University, and how this art form, when deliberately broken, spurred on major changes at a recalcitrant elite university whose history and everyday life is intertwined with its economically-challenged home city.
The sound of breaking glass in what was then called Calhoun College at Yale University on June 13, 2016 signaled the death knell for that college’s name and highlighted the university’s reticence in addressing the instability of new history and its problematic relationship to the city in which it resides (New Haven, Connecticut). The city provides the university with much of its service staff, who work across campus—a campus intertwined with downtown New Haven—in positions such as janitorial, food, and administrative services. The sound of breaking glass at Calhoun—later renamed Grace Hopper College—was caused by a member of this class of worker, Corey Menafee, a dishwasher who took a broom handle to one of the historic painted stained glass window panels depicting slavery in the dining hall of Calhoun and pushed the rectangular glass out of its leaded frame, which then fell onto the Elm Street public sidewalk, smashing into pieces.
This paper will examine the art and architectural environment of Yale University, including the use of stained glass to reinforce a white narrative; its plantation-styled labor system as staffed by black New Haveners; its relationship with the City of New Haven over the course of 300 years; the role of protest and resistance in forcing an instability of identity on an entity concerned with inward facing, self-preservation; and the lack of engagement with the public, in contrast with other elite universities such as the University of Virginia, which more openly embraces instability.