University of Wyoming Janitor’s Grain of Sand

At last week’s Shepard Symposium on Social Justice, my husband and I sat talking as a student walked by.

She was headed for recycling bins labeled trash, mixed paper, cans and glass.

It’s where a University of Wyoming janitor was tidying up.

As the student carrying a soda bottle approached, the custodian directed her to the correct container.

Curious to know if I’m the only one who finds such bins and labels confusing, I asked if people comply with the campus sorting system.

See the source image

“I think of my grandchildren inheriting the planet, and I know this work is my grain of sand.”

“No,” the custodian said, pulling the lid off a can and delving for misfiled recyclables.

“I spend a lot of time going through trash and doing it myself.”

Then in a barely audible voice she added, “I think of my grandchildren inheriting the planet, and I know this work is my grain of sand.”

And that was the moment of recognition.

Clearly we were in the presence of the extraordinary.

Here was one person doing her job from a place of tender care for future generations.

Here was social justice in action — a living example of what Cornel West says “. . . love looks like in public.”


To Consider


Ellen Webster Synakowski lives in Laramie, Wyoming.

Film “Good Medicine” Honors Native American Positivity on Wyoming’s Wind River Indian Reservation

James Trosper is featured in Jackson Tisi’s short film, Good Medicine. (all photos are from the film)

“It’s not a physical thing.

“You can’t really put your finger on it, but we all know as Native American people what they mean when they say Good Medicine.”

That is what James Trosper says in Jackson Tisi’s seven-minute documentary commissioned by Facebook.

The Wind River Indian Reservation is home to Northern Arapaho and Shoshone Tribes.

And Trosper belongs to both.

He is the great-great grandson of Chief Washakie and Director of the High Plains American Indian Research Institute at the University of Wyoming.

He says, “Good Medicine includes our ceremonies and the values passed to us from our ancestors.

“We can achieve peace and healing through our traditions and positive core values such as love, kindness, sacrifice, honesty, loyalty, compassion, respect, forgiveness and spirituality.”

Also starring in the film is 12-year old Patrick Smith.

And for him, Good Medicine takes the form of skateboarding.

Patrick Smith.

“Skating takes a lot of stuff off my mind.

“Whenever I’m mad I can go skate,” he says in the film.

“Skateboarding means you don’t have to be any color.

“You don’t have to have anything, you don’t have to be perfect in order to skate.”

Forms of Good Medicine

Director Tisi says, “Good Medicine is a Native term that refers to anything that can bring peace, healing and positivity.”

James Trosper on the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming.

We can achieve peace and healing through our traditions and positive core values such as love, kindness, sacrifice, honesty, loyalty, compassion, respect, forgiveness and spirituality.

James Trosper

“In this film we explore how elders find good medicine through their traditions, and how the youth on the reservation have found it through skateboarding,” Tisi said.

James Trosper says, “I think if ever there was a time for our people to turn back to our traditional values, it’s now.

“We see examples in the world today of people who don’t live by those values and the destruction and harm that it causes.”

This film makes me think.

And it makes me wonder how we outside the Wind River Indian Reservation find our own way to Good Medicine.

Take action!

Watch Good Medicine by accessing it above.

Learn about the High Plains American Indian Research Institute at the University of Wyoming

Read about Facebook’s 365 Days of Love. On Facebook, of course.

See another post about a Native American site in Wyoming, Returning a Sacred Rock’s Name — Bear Lodge, Mythic-Owl Mountain, Tree Rock, Mato Tipila . . . Just Not Devils Tower.

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Ellen Webster Synakowski lives in Laramie, Wyoming.

Wyoming Refugee Resettlement Plan Written by University Student for Only State Without One

“. . . Wyoming is the single state in the U.S. without a Refugee Resettlement Program (RRP) filed with the federal government.”

Gabe Selting wrote his senior honors thesis as a “How To” plan for Wyoming to initiate a Refugee Resettlement Plan.

So begins Gabe Selting’s 2018 honors senior thesis from the University of Wyoming, “Refugee Resettlement in Wyoming: A How-to Guide.”

Selting says social justice addresses “equal access to opportunity.”

Yet his own interests are broader.

They extend to equal access to opportunities for refugees and asylum seekers.

And this fall his already passionate life takes a step forward as he begins law school in Washington, DC.

His interest in social justice and service began when he was 16 years old.

He was living in London with time on his hands while his parents, both professors at the University of Wyoming, were on sabattical.

During this time he thought, and he struggled.

“The ultimate question was, ‘What is my personal interpretation of happiness, and how can I get there?’”

The answer came as a question.

“What is my ability to impact others in a meaningful way? How can I have a positive impact?”

Resettlement Plan Began with Education

As an International Studies undergraduate, Selting expanded his lens on the world.

He studied and volunteered in multiple countries.

And those experiences gave him perspective on Wyoming’s role in global issues.

As well as Wyoming’s role in the refugee conversation.

“All around Wyoming there’s affordable housing, low-skill jobs, and open spaces so you’re not forced to live next to others’ religions, if you don’t want to,” he said.

“By not having a Refugee Resettlement Plan, what message are we sending to Washington and to the United Nation’s High Commission on Refugees?

“It takes 50 links to make this work,” he said. “and one doesn’t exist – Wyoming.”

The website of the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) is clear.

Refugees are given, “the opportunity to achieve their full potential . . .”

The U.S. Government along with individual states and organizations offer a hand up with “critical resources to assist them in becoming integrated members of American society.”

“It takes 50 links to make this work, and one doesn’t exist — Wyoming.”

Refugees are Free to Move Into Wyoming

Because there are no cross-state entry restrictions, once refugees have been permitted to enter the country, Selting says they can go where they like.

“Former refugees are making their way to Wyoming, whether people like it or not.”

Yet without a RRP Selting says, “those who arrive here don’t have access to key services.”

Selting thinks that state’s resistance stems from fears for safety and economic security.

“It’s so much more dangerous to not have a refugee infrastructure program then to have one,” he said.

“There’s a huge body of literature showing that extremism often comes in the form of social and economic alienation.

“We need to have systems for people to integrate into; to combat social isolation.

“Wyoming has the capacity to help and accept refugees,” he said.

And thanks to this recent grad’s persistence, Wyoming’s “How To” is ready to go.

Take Action!

•  Read Gabe’s thesis, Refugee Resettlement in Wyoming: A How-To Guide.

•  Learn about the Immigration Alliance of Casper.

•  Check out the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement.

•  Read Gillette Against Hate. 

•  Read Where refugees go in America,” from the Washington Post.

•  •  •

Ellen Synakowski lives in Laramie, Wyoming.
Her website is

“Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public.  — C. West


Bright pink states are the worst for welcoming refugees. Bright green are the best.

Lindy Westenhoff Leads Wyoming’s Safe Zone LBGTQ Ally Trainings with Vulnerability and Empathy

Lindy Westenhoff, coordinator of University of Wyoming’s Safe Zone LGBTQ ally trainings.

As coordinator of the University’s Safe Zone LGBTQ ally trainings, Lindy Westenhoff models vulnerability and empathy.

Lindy prefers “they and them” pronouns to my “she and her” and my husband’s “he and him.”

Why is that important?

Because, as I learned in Safe Zone classes, respectful communication in the LGBTQ community is easy.

“Just ask,” Lindy said. “You can say, ‘I go by they and them. What pronouns do you go by?’”

Safe Zone is a campus educational program geared to allies of the LGBTQIA+* community.

“Social justice is about access and changing the status quo to something that’s fair for everyone.”

Lindy defines an ally as “someone who supports, uplifts, and advocates for a marginalized person or community without taking on that marginalized identity as their own.”

And some of us need help knowing how to be good allies.

The classes, combined with Lindy’s willingness to answer uncomfortable questions, helps ensure that we have ways to support members of this community.

Lindy says, “Social justice is about access and changing the status quo to something that’s fair for everyone.”

Which is why Safe Zone’s role is to give participants the knowledge needed to go out and make those changes is so important.

LGBTQIA+ is often abbreviated LGBTQ. It stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, intersex, asexuality and all of the other sexualities, sexes, and genders that aren’t included in these few letters.8

Lindy Westenhoff’s LGBTQ-Friendly Campus
and So Much more

Don’t miss this interview with Lindy that includes:
•  her vision of LBGTQ-friendly campuses
•  the biggest LGBTQ stumbling block in Wyoming
• and her own story 


Take Action!

•  Attend live Safe Zone trainings: Offered as three, 1-hour free luncheon classes twice a semester on the University of Wyoming campus (including free lunch). Class details.

Class 1: LBG 101
Where empathy is established. Check for next date.
Class 2: Gender Identity
Becoming more comfortable with complex terms.
April 4 – 12:00 p.m. in Big Horn (Union 203)
Class 3: Visible Ally
How to be both aware and supportive
April 11 – 12:00 p.m. in Big Horn (Union 203)
Additional class
Navigating Academia as an Underrepresented Student
April 25 – 12:00 p.m. in Big Horn (Union 203)

•  Watch Safe Zone classes online
Free from anywhere in the world. Includes downloadable handouts.
Suitable for individual and group learning.

•  Attend the Shepard Symposium for Social Justice
April 11-14, 2018 in Laramie

•  Additional Resources

•  •  •

Ellen Synakowski lives in Laramie, Wyoming.
Her website is

“Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public.1  — C. West