At a moment of racial reckoning across the country, artist Barbara Earl Thomas is lending her voice through her work to help Yale address its complicated legacy on race.
The University selected the Seattle-based artist to create a new set of stained glass windows to adorn Grace Hopper College. The student residence hall was previously named for John C. Calhoun, a Yale alum, former US vice president and avowed white supremacist and slavery defender.
Thomas’ works will replace depictions of Calhoun and scenes of slavery that once hung in the college.
"I feel incredibly honored and imminently responsible to listen and to act almost like a conduit," Thomas told NBC Connecticut.
In 2016, Yale employee Corey Menafee so deeply bothered by this depiction at the college of enslaved people working in a field with bales of cotton atop their heads that he shattered the depiction, and initially faced charges.
“My actions weren’t in vain. There’s some type of change,” Menafee said at the time of the incident.
Thomas hopes her vibrant glassworks will be a part of that change.
Her art will honor Grace Hopper, also a Yale alum and trailblazing scientist and mathematician. The work will also memorialize Roosevelt Thompson, a Rhodes scholar and resident of the old Calhoun College who passed away during his senior year.
“My goal is and was to make sure that it was clear to the viewer where we have been and how we are introducing the new," she said.
Thomas says she won’t erase Calhoun’s presence, but will instead point to moving beyond what he represented.
“We move Calhoun to the background, and Hopper to the foreground. It's just like a move, because that’s the way history works,” said Thomas.
As of right now the plan is for the windows to be installed in Hopper College sometime next spring.