Story_image_rose-1127807973

An image of a rose was first used on buttons to commemorate the 14 women killed in a mass shooting at École Polytechnique de Montréal in 1989. It continues to be used as a symbol for a national advocacy campaign to end violence against women and girls.

MacEwan University recognizes the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women

December 6, 2019 | Campus Life, Society
Over three thousand kilometres away and 30 years ago, École Polytechnique de Montréal was rocked by an unexpected and tragic event. Fourteen women were killed in a mass shooting, an extreme act of gender-based violence.

The event continues to weigh heavily on the minds of people at post-secondary institutions across Canada, and students, staff and faculty at MacEwan University want to encourage others to recognize the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women and take time to reflect on issues related to gender-based violence.

Donna Wong, program assistant in MacEwan’s School of Business, was a student at Newfoundland’s Memorial University on December 6, 1989. She was buried in books in the library all day, and without the prevalence of smartphones, social media or the 24-hour news cycle, she didn't know why, when she returned to her residence building, the entire place was eerily quiet.

"The residence I stayed in had a reputation of being boisterous,” she recalls. That night it was anything but. “It was just the quietness of it that weirded me out. And when I got to my room, my roommate was leaving. She said, ‘You didn’t hear?’”

After her roommate filled her in about the shooting at Polytechnique in Montreal, Donna felt numb. “At that moment, it was just … 14 people are dead because someone decided to kill them.” The chilling revelation that the killer specifically targeted women didn’t come until later. “Being a university student and learning about what happened in Montreal really unsettled me because the victims were targeted because they were women. I was trying to build a career, trying to better myself through my education. So were these women and they were cut off.”

The women’s biographies are displayed on MacEwan’s campus each December 6, sharing the stories of the smart, compassionate people who were lost to gender-based violence. (Each display includes white ribbons; take one to wear in remembrance of the victims.)

What happened in Montreal really unsettled me because the victims were targeted because they were women.
—Donna Wong

Dr. Amanda Nelund, assistant professor in sociology and chair of U-SOLVE (University Students Offering Leadership for Violence Elimination), first learned about the Polytechnique shooting in the third year of her undergraduate degree, and she continues to talk about it in her Intro to Criminology course and in a seminar on gendered violence. She says that gender-based violence doesn’t always present itself in such extreme ways, but that it is a campus issue.

“I see how because of gender-based violence, students have a hard time coming to class, they have a hard time studying and focusing on their assignments or exams,” she says. “It impedes women’s advancement through academic ranks and leads to some disciplines having fewer women in them because the workplaces are so toxic. It stops women from being able to just come to school to learn and study or work, so it limits our academic excellence.”

Natasha Wurtz, a third-year Bachelor of Arts student majoring in sociology, wants to make people at MacEwan aware of the National Day of Remembrance and Action, but notes the importance of the word “action.”

“If we don’t do anything about gender-based violence, then it’s just virtue signalling and I’m done with that,” she says. “If you don’t take action towards actively challenging the behaviours and mindsets that lead to this kind of violence, you’re not doing anything and nothing is going to change.”

While eliminating gender-based violence seems daunting, there are things each person can do. For starters, take part in the National Day of Remembrance and Action and think about the victims of the Polytechnique shooting or the missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls for whom this is also a day of remembrance. 

 

IMGLR_Hailey_Twin_5424

"I don’t want people to remember my sister as a number or a blurred face on a PowerPoint slide"

Student shares her sister’s story and asks us to remember Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls as the real people they are.


 

Dr. Lynn Wells, associate vice-president, Students and Teaching, worked at York University at the time of the shooting and recalls how the event created an atmosphere of fear and anxiety for women on Canadian university campuses.

“The shooting at l’Ecole Polytechnique was of course a drastic example of what happens when gendered violence manifests itself in a campus environment,” she says. “But we need to be conscious of the fact that there is still violence against women, especially Indigenous women and women of colour, and also against people who are non-binary, trans and who have other sexual and gender identities.”

Awareness is part of the work Lynn does at MacEwan. She is a member of the university’s Sexual Violence Response Team (a group working to coordinate complaint processes and continually improve the institution’s response to sexual violence) and points out that the Office of Sexual Prevention, Education and Response is a vital resource for education, providing support and creating a culture of consent on campus.

We need to be conscious of the fact that there is still violence against women, especially Indigenous women and women of colour, and also against people who are non-binary, trans and who have other sexual and gender identities.
—Dr. Lynn Wells

“Gender-based violence is a campus issue because in education we can actually be part of the solution instead of part of the problem,” says Donna. “We can bring ideas to MacEwan and other communities that will encourage everyone to have respect for others, especially of their personal space and physical boundaries.”

And Amanda wants to see everyone keep the issue on politicians’ radar. “While in the last two years, we’ve had this huge public conversation about sexual harrassment and sexual assault, it’s not in our legislature,” she says. “Part of what we can do as citizens is to demand that our politicians tell us what they’re going to do in terms of resources and plans to keep each other safe.” 

 

Taking action on a day of remembrance

“We have come a long way since 1989, but we still have a lot of work to do… Just think about what you can do in order to eliminate this culture of violence.”

IMGLR_Kelsey_DSC9398


 
Get MacEwan University news delivered to your inbox.
Sign up for our weekly e-newsletter