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Published April 05, 2018
This October marks the 20th anniversary of the death of University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard, who was murdered outside of Laramie during the 1998 fall semester.
This year’s Shepard Symposium on Social Justice, scheduled April 11-14 on campus, will have special meaning when Judy Shepard, the mother of Matthew, delivers the symposium’s keynote address Thursday, April 12, at 4 p.m. in the Wyoming Union Center Ballroom.
The symposium is free and open to the public.
Turning tragedy into a crusade for justice, Shepard, a leading voice in the LGBTQ rights movement, helped establish the Matthew Shepard Foundation to carry on her son’s legacy. Later, she spearheaded the Matthew Shepard Act, which expanded the federal hate crime law to include crimes based on gender and sexual orientation.
Shepard draws from personal tragedy to promote a greater understanding of LGBTQ issues and empowers audiences to embrace human dignity and diversity through outreach and advocacy in their own communities.
The author of the best-seller, “The Meaning of Matthew,” Shepard offers an intimate look at how her life and the entire fight for equal rights changed when her son was killed. With a name now synonymous with activism and equal rights, she leaves an imprint with her words, compassion and raw honesty as she urges audiences to make their schools and communities safer for all, regardless of race, sex, religion, or gender identity or expression.
“We are honored to have Judy Shepard return to the University of Wyoming as our keynote speaker,” says Christi Boggs, co-chair of the Shepard symposium. “This year marks the 20th memorial of Matthew’s murder, and Judy has been a leader and an inspiration during that time. We simply could not have a more meaningful keynote speaker for this year’s symposium.”
The symposium attempts to keep social justice issues at the forefront.
Former UW College of Education faculty members Omowale Akintunde and Margaret Cooney helped found the annual event 22 years ago, which originally was known as "The Symposium for the Eradication of Social Inequality.” The program has grown from a local grassroots event to an internationally recognized conference.
The symposium has since broadened its focus so that participants from throughout the community, state and region can present programs on social justice issues within a variety of arenas, including beyond the realm of public education. A UW steering committee, with cross-college representation, assures that multiple academic disciplines have connections to the symposium, says Michelle Jarman, who co-chairs the symposium with Boggs.
“With the rise of divisive rhetoric in public discourse, the need for productive conversations across differences is more important than ever. The Shepard Symposium on Social Justice features students, scholars, artists and activists committed to social justice work,” Jarman says. “We have a wide variety topics in our sessions this year, and we encourage community members to attend and participate. Our theme this year, ‘Courageous Conversations’ is meant to be broadly inclusive, and we hope to see many new faces from our UW community, Laramie and beyond.”
The symposium has expanded its topics to include inequalities based on race/ethnicity, gender sexual orientation, disability and class.
Throughout the symposium, keynote speakers each day will discuss various topics. They are:
-- Wednesday, April 11, 4 p.m., Wyoming Union Center Ballroom, Megan Phelps-Roper, who was raised within the virulent religious group the Westboro Baptist Church. She is the granddaughter of Fred Phelps, the church’s founder. Westboro members are known for picketing against the LGBT community, funeral services for soldiers and nearly every other religious faith. Church members picketed on the UW campus days after Matthew Shepard’s death and also at his funeral in Casper. Phelps-Roper renounced her way of life and left the church in 2012.
-- Thursday, April 12, noon, Wyoming Union Center Ballroom, Courtney Ghele, a 23-year-old South African activist with four years of experience working toward social and environmental justice in post-apartheid South Africa. She is the founder and executive director of the Better Tomorrow Movement -- an international youth empowerment organization.
-- Friday, April 13, 12:30 p.m., Wyoming Union Center Ballroom, luncheon panel featuring Judy and Dennis Shepard; Ghele; UW School of Teacher Education Associate Professor Angela Jaime; and Katherine Evans, an Eastern Mennonite University assistant professor of education in Harrisonburg, Va.
-- Friday, April 13, 3 p.m., Wyoming Union Center Ballroom, author David Roediger will discuss “Getting Solidarity Right: Realism, Hope, and Utopias in Renewing Social Movements.” He has written “The Wages of Whiteness” and “The Production of Difference,” with Elizabeth Esch. In his presentations around the world, Roediger has established himself as a writer and speaker whose work speaks to the needs of social movements.
The symposium also will feature daily sessions on a diverse set of topics. A full schedule can be found at www.shepardsymposium.org/.
For more information, call Boggs at (307) 363-0946 or Jarman at (307) 766-5060.