Approximately 75 students, faculty and staff gathered on Thursday night in the Keller Hall Reception Room to view a screening of “The Laramie Project.” The movie is based on the play of the same name, which is the 2013-2014 selection for the One Book, One Richmond program.
“The Laramie Project” tells the story of Matthew Shepard, a college student who was tortured and left to die in Laramie, Wy., by two other college students in 1998. McKinney and Henderson were tried and convicted for Shepard’s murder; during the trial, it was reported that Shepard had been targeted because he was gay.
One Book, One Richmond and the Roosevelt Institute’s UR Documentaries in the Greek co-sponsored the event. The Roosevelt Institute is a nationwide, student-run public policy organization.
Ted Lewis, associate director of Common Ground for LGBTQ campus life, said he loved the One Book, One Richmond program because it engages so many disciplines and people on campus who might not have thought about this issue before.
“The Laramie Project” “is a reminder that this could happen in our community,” Lewis said. “So what are we doing to actively think about how do we treat people with more humanity?”
The film uses the real words of Laramie citizens taken from interviews after Shepard’s death. The movie focuses more on what happened to the town after the crime than the crime itself.
Senior Jamie Bieber said she had been surprised at the angle the film had taken in addressing homophobia.
“Most of the town is against the homophobia,” she said, “which is why it’s interesting that the focus is Laramie.”
Bieber had read and seen the play in high school, but this was the first time she had seen the movie. She said both the play and the movie had upset her because of the unsettling story.
Following the film, a panel discussed “The Laramie Project” as well as the broader topics of hate crimes and discrimination. The panelists were Archana Pathak, a Virginia Commonwealth University professor and board president of the Conciliation Project, a social justice theater organization that puts on plays to open a dialogue about racism in America; Dorothy Holland, a University of Richmond theater professor and Claire Guthrie Gastañaga, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia.
Senior Erik Lampmann, founder of the Roosevelt Institute at the University of Richmond, moderated the panel’s discussion.
“These are forms of discrimination that a certain group of people have encountered over centuries or decades,” Lampmann said, “and we’re trying to figure out how we as a university community are implicated in that.”
Pathak said “The Laramie Project” was profound to her because Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson, the men convicted of murdering Shepard, were very human in the film and play.
“The first time I saw the play,” Pathak said, “I went, ‘I teach them, every day.’”
On Oct. 1, Judy Shepard, Shepard’s mother, will be speaking at Richmond. The event will be held in the Alice Haynes Room at 6 p.m.
Contact staff writer Katie Evans at firstname.lastname@example.org