by Tait Becker ’19
The Providence College community was invited to gather in Slavin ’64 Hall on December 6, 2016, to listen to the moving story that Judy Shepard shared about the death of her son, Matthew Shepard, who was beaten and left for dead because he was gay. Feelings of discrimination and alienation from many groups within the United States have surfaced in light of the 2016 Presidential Election. Many of those feelings have even surfaced among students who reside here at PC.
There were several different talking points that were addressed by Shepard. The resounding message of her testimonial was the need for the embracement of diversity within today’s society. The most successful way that this can happen is through the creation of dialogue. Her belief is that this requires collective action.
This BOP sponsored event was the result of a collective action of many different groups on campus.
Annie Panatier ’17, chair of BOP’s lecture committee, spoke on the importance of Shepard’s visit. “BOP is honored to have Judy Shepard come and speak about her son and her experience. She is an inspiring guest and it is an especially relevant talk for the PC community at a time where we have seen so much hate and negativity in our country.” She encoruaged students to work with other organizations on campus to create a rhetoric of inclusion among minority groups.
Shepard is fearful that the coming years may represent a greater challenge for this embracement of diversity, specifically the gay community. The Obama Administration worked to create greater inclusion for this community.
While a hate crime bill was passed during his time in office, there is still no federal law that protects against the discrimination of individuals based on sexual orientation. These protection laws vary from state to state. Shepard says that these laws are not only applicable to those who are gay, but also to every group considered a minority in this country.
In order to progress with the protection of minority groups, allies, and supporters of these movements must engage vocally in thoughtful ways. She believes that the best way to show this support is to be an active member in our society. One can engage in this by reaching out to their legislators to either encourage legislation already in place, or advocate for new legislation to be created.
When asked by a student during the Q&A part of the discussion what colleges could do in order to make campuses more welcoming, her response was simple. Be mindful of the surroundings and those around you. In order to create a diverse atmosphere, students must challenge ideas and work together to create campus-wide dialogue. Engaging in this conversation is the biggest tool in working towards embracing dialogue.