A state senator confronted three University of Wyoming freshmen during the Shepard Symposium earlier this month about their presentation on concealed carry and race.

The Shepard Symposium is a week-long annual event named in honor of Matthew Shepard, a young gay Laramie man who was murdered in 1998.

The symposium features presentations on gay rights, gender equality and other social justice topics.

According to the student presenters, Sen. Anthony Bouchard, R-Cheyenne, asked their instructor, Allison Gernant, for her name and, when she refused, threatened her by saying he would find out and defund her department.

“He came in with a motive,” said Desmin Lewis, one of the presenters. “He put his two cents in and didn’t listen to anything we have to say. It kind of shocked all of us because the way he presented himself was unprofessional and he just wasn’t listening at all.”

The presentation, which started as an English class project, looked at the ways lenient concealed carry laws, when combined with racial prejudices, endanger minorities. Bouchard, following the confrontation in which he also allegedly spoke about bringing bombs to campus to test UWPD’s response time, returned to the booth to take pictures.

“He tried to be sneaky about it, but we all knew what he was doing,” Lewis said.

Lewis and his co-presenters said they figured he would put the pictures on social media.

“We checked his Facebook, and sure enough, there it is on Facebook, and we are getting hammered with comments,” he said. “And out of everyone, Allison probably … got targeted the most.”

Commenters on Bouchard’s post helped identify Gernant, called for defunding the program and complained of “liberal indoctrination.”

Lewis and his co-presenter Tyrell Proby both said Bouchard missed the point of their presentation, which was not anti-gun and did not advocate gun control.

“He believes our presentation is more along the lines of gun control and taking away our weapons,” Proby said. “So, he wasn’t listening to our presentation because our presentation was about how there needs to be an improvement in the ease with which someone can get concealed carry.”

Lewis and Proby said they cared more about Bouchard refusing to have a calm debate than about any political disagreements.

“He was very aggressive with the things he was saying, very biased, didn’t listen to anyone besides himself,” Lewis said. “Which is OK. That’s what a debate is: You’re supposed to be passionate about what you’re saying, you’re supposed to have emotions, but in a debate, you kind of have to listen sometimes, too.”

Bouchard said stories about the incident are “fake news,” but confirmed he was at the Shepard Symposium and he talked to the students.

“When he says things are ‘fake news’ that’s wholly inappropriate for an elected Wyoming official to say because many people heard something,” Gernant said. “We don’t want people to be disruptive, aggressive and lying who are our elected officials. We really demand more and we should be able to disagree with him, politely, in public and not feel like our jobs are threatened.”

Lewis, Proby and their co-presenter Jerard Swan were invited to show UW President Laurie Nichols their project Wednesday morning. Chris Boswell, vice president of governmental and community affairs, said the president was appreciative both of the presentation itself and of the students for taking a stand on a controversial issue.

“She extended her admiration to the students for the way they handled things and specifically noted that the university is really proud of the students,” he said.

Boswell said he was not concerned about Bouchard’s comments related to bringing bombs on campus.

“He’d be the first to say he wasn’t serious about that,” Boswell said. “He was just using it as an example and I think everybody involved didn’t take it as a threat. Whether it was appropriate of him to say that or not is up for others to judge, but I don’t think he was threatening to take an action like that.”

Gernant also said she was not worried, though she felt scared and threatened at the time.

“I think he was joking,” she said.

(8) comments

Troutlapper
Troutlapper

I'd like to give Bouchard the benefit of the doubt. Maybe he was drunk.

waitasec
waitasec

This was an excellent lesson for the students. It showed them that they will encounter people who "passionately" disagree. They were shocked and they should have been. Up to now, everything is rainbows and ice cream. So, students, how do you handle an elected official, or anyone for that matter, who is in your face and won't listen? Did you engage the senator? What would you have done differently, other than being "shocked".

Royal Coachman
Royal Coachman

You have that precisely backwards. A theoretically grown man -- one of these politically correct snowflakes who needs his safe space from ever hearing that issues are more complicated than he thinks and that others have different views -- can't handle even knowing that someone within a hundred miles has an opinion different than he and his little group of buddies. So he has to drive over a mountain to throw a tantrum and threaten (ludicrously) jobs. Delicate flowers like this guy are in for a rude awakening, should they ever leave their echo chambers.

waitasec
waitasec

Unfortunately, the world is full of "theoretically" grown people in positions of authority and power- legislatures, supervisors, directors, company owners. The life lesson for these students is learning how to deal with them in the workplace. They aren't just going to go away.

ChrisBoswell
ChrisBoswell

The students did engage with Senator Bouchard. They answered his points, and made offered their own perspective(s) on an issue which they had researched and thought about. They handled themselves well.

freeconsultant
freeconsultant

Universities teach critical thinking. Universities promote mutual respect and the ability to listen to and engage the ideas of others. Universities require close examination of different types of evidence and encourage students to ask questions about how the world works. No screaming, no threats, no hissy fits, no opinions not backed up by evidence, no bullying. There are places in this world where people who hold power scream, hyperventilate, intimidate, and harass, taking advantage of the power of position and prestige. There are increasingly few of these places but some do exist, although even there, based on recent evidence, major offenders seem to lose their jobs. A university is not a workplace.

waitasec
waitasec

No, a university is not a workplace. Sadly, universities are becoming diploma factories, causing soon-to-be graduating students to collectively rack up trillions of dollars in debt (source CNN money). I question the education students are receiving for that price tag.

Pragmatist
Pragmatist

Based on this article alone, it sounds like the Senator came to the symposium convinced he was going to hear the usual liberal blather that is promoted on campus and encouraged by UW leadership. The Senator should have listened more carefully. Sounds like he might have learned something.
Another thing: Why, every time this symposium is mentioned, is Mr Shepherd's sexual preference mentioned? The poor guy was murdered. Isn't that enough? He was not murdered because he was homosexual. There were other factors involved in that horrible event. And, if you are going to mention his homosexuality, rather than use that tragedy to suggest UW is violent and intolerant, why not also mention his killers were not UW students and the crime had nothing to do with the university?

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