The Shepard Symposium on Social Justice, an annual event at the University of Wyoming since 1996, has evolved into a major national conference, seeking to engage participants in discussion and analyses of strategies and actions that can eliminate social inequality.
Begun by two faculty in the College of Education, Omawale Akintunde and Margaret Cooney, the symposium, then called “The Symposium for the Eradication of Social Inequality,” aimed at involving University of Wyoming and local students in dialogue on issues related to social justice, particularly within the context of public education. From those early beginnings, the symposium has grown in several ways. It has broadened its focus so that participants from throughout the community, state, and region have presented on social justice issues within a variety of arenas, including but also beyond the realm of public education. A steering committee with cross-college representation assures that multiple academic disciplines have connections to the symposium.
The symposium has expanded its topics to include inequalities based on race/ethnicity, gender sexual orientation, disability, and class. Honoring the work of the Shepard family and the memory of their son, Matthew Shepard, a UW student and social activist, the symposium changed its name in 2002 and works as a living reminder of the need for information and dialogue about social justice concerns in American and beyond. In the spring of that same year, the Shepard Symposium learned that it would be the recipient of funding from an anonymous endowment given to the University to pursue social justice activities throughout the campus. Past Symposium speakers have included Anita Hill, Johnny Cochran, Morris Dees, Ronald Takaki, Rubin "Hurricane" Carter, the Brown Sisters, and Sherman Alexie. These speakers have been heralded for their ability to draw many individuals representative of a diverse cross section of our community and region. The Symposium on Social Justice strives to reach a broad audience of community members (on and off campus), as well as regional and national groups of participants.