On October 10, Matthew Shepard, a gay student at the University of Wyoming, was beaten, tied to a fence and left alone to die in freezing temperatures. He was murdered primarily for being homosexual. The incident sparked the attention of the nation, as it renewed debate about hate crime laws. Oberlin was one of several colleges across the nation to hold a candlelight vigil.
Oberlin's candlelight vigil for Shepard was held the Tuesday after the death during midterms week. Students gathered at the Memorial Arch, passed out candles and walked around Tappan Square. "There was a stretch of people that covered almost half of Tappan Square," said Chris Anton, president of the first-year class, who spoke at the vigil. "The emotion of that was amazing."
"I was impressed by how many people turned out and cared enough to come and express their feelings," said first-year Joe Andriano.
The vigil served to help people cope with the incident. "It helped to be around other people who felt the same way," said one student.
"The vigil was a helpful healing process. It helped people come to terms with his death and come to terms with the fact that now we have to do something about it," said Andriano.
A protest speak-out was held later in the week. Students vented their grief in Fairchild Chapel, where the pews, side aisles, and lobby were packed. "The situation was very difficult for students. There was a realization that it could have been any one of us; almost everyone was in tears," said Anton.
Unfortunately, this kind of torture and mutilation is not uncommon. It's frightening because it raises a sense of risk and danger for gay men," said Bill Norris, professor of sociology who attended the speak-out.
According to Norris, Scruggs, an African-American writer, described this incident as a lynching because it involves the mutilation of a victim. "In the past the south had a certain etiquette, and if that wasn't followed, one could be lynched. This incident sadly suggests that a certain etiquette must be followed today also," said Norris.
"The emotion, frustration, and anger people had - I hope that never goes away," said Anton. "I'm trying hard not to forget the memory of this incident and I hope that rubs off on other people so that they can take it and turn it into something positive.
Copyright © 1998, The Oberlin Review.
Volume 127, Number 7, October 30, 1998
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