Empowering Communities: 20 Years After the Matthew Shepard Tragedy


Campus event reflects on the 20-year aftermath of the Matthew Shepard tragedy.

ROSEBURG, Oregon – On Thursday, Oct. 4, various faculty and student leaders gathered in the Bonnie J. Ford Health, Nursing, and Science Center to participate in a live discussion reflecting on the Matthew Shepard tragedy and the change it made in national and educational policy.

The panel, titled; Twenty Years Later: A Conversation About the Life and Legacy of Matthew Shepard, was presented by Rhode Island College, NASPA-Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education, and the Matthew Shepard Foundation. The panel was live-streamed to more than 210 organizations across the country.

Matt ShepardIn October 1998, Judy and Dennis Shepard lost their 21-year-old son Matthew, then a student at the University of Wyoming, to a murder motivated by anti-gay hate. Matthew's death brought national attention to federal hate crime legislation. In 2009, the U.S. Congress passed the Matthew Shepard Act, which President Barack Obama signed into law.

The panel discussed many of the positive changes to come in wake of the tragedy including the increase of LGBTQ+ representation; be it through campus, legislative representation, and even the inclusion of student data offering LGBTQ+ options. The discussion also spoke on setbacks seen in the last few years; primarily the rise in hate crimes committed throughout the United States.

UCC’s Director of Student Engagement and the event’s local host, Marjan Coester, found the importance of role models to be the biggest takeaway from the discussion.

“It is the importance of having role models on campus that students can connect with and that those role models fit their marginalized and minoritized communities,” Coester said. “We have students who don’t feel like they belong. We need to build and create around role models for students, and we need help students engage those with those role models to build on that belonging.”

The panel’s message of positive growth continued to be at the forefront. Communities have the ability to empower. Communities of inclusiveness needs to not only protect those who are marginalized, but also offer a welcoming environment. They believe schools need to foster open-mindedness, and say that the example needs to be established from the top down.

Photo: Matthew Shepard Foundation

About Umpqua Community College

Nestled in the beautiful North Umpqua River Valley, Umpqua Community College is the regional center for higher education in Douglas County, Oregon. UCC provides high quality college degree programs, workforce development, and community learning opportunities.


Marjan CoesterContact
Director of Student Engagement
Phone: 541-440-7749

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