- Apply to UW
- Programs & Majors
- Cost & Financial Aid
- Current Students
- UW Life
- About UW
Published January 26, 2024
The annual symposium honored Matthew Shepard with its 27th conference.
In 2023, the Shepard Symposium on Social Justice hosted two conferences — one in April and one in October. The theme was Social Justice Literacy and the 25th Memorial of Matthew Shepard.
“This conference is crucially important to the university, to Laramie and to the state of Wyoming as a whole,” says 2023 co-chair and Assistant Lecturer Allison Gernant. “Universities are in the business of transformative learning and engagement — that kind of learning should be happening at every turn. Our conference matters deeply to attendees, presenters, volunteers and community members because we discuss social and environmental issues that personally matter to each one of us in some way, shape, or form. Shepard offers a space to learn, to stretch our thinking, to feel vulnerable, to see what the world might look like from someone else’s view. The world needs more spaces like Shepard Symposium.”
Traditionally a spring event, starting this year, the symposium permanently moves to fall. Read on to discover key facts and stats from this important University of Wyoming symposium.
The symposium’s mission is to spotlight contemporary inequities in order to promote transformative learning and engagement in the pursuit of justice. Each year, it brings together leading voices in social justice — scholars, students, community members, activists, artists and filmmakers — to support an inclusive dialogue addressing issues of social and environmental justice in interpersonal, community and structural contexts.
Originally named the Symposium for the Eradication of Social Inequality, the conference was started in 1997 by faculty members Omowale Akintunde and Margaret Cooney. The changed in 2002 to honor the work of the Shepard family and the memory of their son, Matthew Shepard, a UW student and social activist. The annual conference works as a living reminder of the need for information and dialogue about social justice concerns in America and beyond. It has grown from a local event to an internationally recognized conference.
Each symposium includes a renowned keynote speaker. Past symposium speakers have included Anita Hill, Johnny Cochran, Morris Dees, Ronald Takaki, Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, the Brown Sisters and Sherman Alexie. The multiday conference events are open to the public, with attendance often topping 500. Recent offerings included a remembrance of Matthew Shepard, a concert, a reading and Q&A with the cast of the play “The Laramie Project,” a full day of presentations and workshops, a Relative Theatrics presentation of the play “Hurricane Diane,” a resource fair and a United Multicultural Council Drag Show.
Honoring Matthew Shepard
“As we remember 25 years later the terrible tragedy of the murder of Matthew Shepard, we also celebrate the accomplishments of Judy and Dennis Shepard with all of the work they have done to advance equality and justice across the country with the Matthew Shepard Foundation,” says symposium co-chair Kora Wolfgang, a Multicultural Affairs gender and sexuality project coordinator. “Although Laramie and UW have made significant changes and advancements over the past 25 years, there is still much room for growth to make safe and protected spaces for the 2SLGBTQIAP+ community.”