Beth Loffreda


Beth Loffreda, who received a Ph.D. in English from Rutgers, is the author of the well-regarded book Losing Matt Shepard: Life and Politics in the Aftermath of an Anti-Gay Murder.

Nick Romanenko

When Beth Loffreda arrived to teach English at the University of Wyoming in 1998, Laramie, Wyoming, was unfamiliar territory. Raised on the East Coast, Loffreda GSNB’97 had received a Ph.D. in English from Rutgers and was quickly recruited, despite being straight, to be the faculty adviser for the campus’s one gay student group, the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Association. “Within three weeks, Matthew was killed,” Loffreda recalls.

Matthew was Matthew Shepard, a name that quickly became an icon for gay rights. Shepard, 21, had been tied to a split-rail fence, beaten by two local men, and left to die. Laramie and Loffreda were suddenly in a media firestorm. “I found myself very unexpectedly, and in a totally unprepared way, at the center of the terrible chaos and badness and fear that happened because of the murder,” says Loffreda.

Loffreda wanted to try to make sense of it all, and the result was her book Losing Matt Shepard: Life and Politics in the Aftermath of an Anti-Gay Murder (Columbia University Press, 2000). Today an associate professor and director of the M.F.A. program in creative writing at the university, Loffreda returned to Rutgers in the fall to speak at a screening of the film Matt Shepard Is a Friend of Mine (Arleen McGlade LC’83 is an executive producer), part of an observance of the 15th anniversary of Shepard’s death and one of the inaugural events at the recently created Tyler Clementi Center, a collaboration between Rutgers and the Tyler Clementi Foundation that helps young adults make the transition to college amid the fast-paced world of digital media. The center also promotes interdisciplinary research, education, and programs to improve the lives of young people.

As with the reaction of Clementi’s family in the wake of his death, those close to Shepard have worked to sustain his memory and forge a legacy. “He took up a place in the public consciousness that has been enduring, in part because people have continued to do the work of remembering him,” Loffreda says.