Dec. 11, 2019

Montreal massacre memorial a time of reflection

Three decades later, the 14 victims are central to the discussion on diversity and change

In an audience marked by diversity, it was a stark moment of unity.

Dozens of hands, young and old, thrust into the air after being asked if they knew of anyone impacted by gender-based violence.

In a room of more than 150 people, all there to commemorate a murderous act of violence against women three decades earlier, there was hardly a person who failed to raise their arm.

“There’s still a long way to go,” says Dr. Qiao Sun, PhD, senior associate dean of diversity and equity at the Schulich School of Engineering.

Annual day to reflect and remember

The engineering faculty was host to the University of Calgary’s annual tribute to the 14 women killed at  Montreal’s École Polytechnique on Dec. 6, 1989, when an unstable misogynist gunman named Marc Lepine targeted females in the school, separating his victims from the men.

Before taking his own life, Lepine made it clear he was “fighting feminism.”

Instead, the killer’s vitriol galvanized Canada against gender-biased hatred, with the Montreal Massacre becoming an annual reminder of why diversity and tolerance are ideals worth promoting and protecting.

Progress made, and must continue

The National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women is also a chance to measure progress since 1989, in ensuring STEM programs like engineering mirror society as a whole.

For Sun, “a long way to go” doesn’t mean significant progress hasn’t been made in opening the engineering school to a far more diverse student culture than would have been seen 30 years ago.

“We have done a lot and we continue to strive to make it even better. We have increased representation of females in our school and that alone is a very big thing,” explains Sun.

“If you feel isolated, you feel like you don’t belong, and that your voice isn’t heard and your opinions aren’t reflected. That is something we are changing.”

Faculty strives for excellence that includes all

From mentorship at the university level to reaching out to grade-school students still deciding on their future, the engineering faculty’s drive towards diversity is about including everyone, and making sure every voice is welcomed and heard.

“Our message is ‘You belong. This is your place,’” says Sun.

“We are creating a culture where everybody feels supported, and where every voice feels heard. We are celebrating excellence and in engineering, that means having every voice at the table.”

This year’s memorial event, lead by keynote speaker Geeta Sankappanavar, chair of the University of Calgary’s Board of Governors, featured the lighting of a candle dedicated to the memory of the 14 victims and a moment of silence.

The names of those who died at Montreal’s École Polytechnique.

The names of those who died at Montreal’s École Polytechnique.