Members of the University of Toronto community gathered virtually on Monday to remember the 14 women killed in the École Polytechnique massacre 32 years ago — and to reflect on how to combat gender inequality and gender-based violence today.
At a tri-campus event marking the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women, Marisa Sterling, the assistant dean and director diversity, inclusion and professionalism in the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering, said she was a third-year chemical engineering student at U of T in 1989 when a shooter went on a rampage at the Montreal school and killed 14 women for being who they were.
Another 10 women and four men were injured.
“We need to change the system that allows violence to continue as a known and acceptable way of life,” Sterling said. “We need to speak up when we witness acts of bullying, harassment and violence. We need to all act no matter our gender identity and work together.”
She recalled feeling pressure to prove she belonged in her engineering classes in 1989, when women only accounted for about 15% of students. Today, the share of women in undergraduate engineering programs at U of T has grown to 40% (the national average was 22% last year, according to University Affairs).
Sterling was one of several speakers at the event who spoke about the need for action to address gender inequality and gender-based violence at a time when domestic violence reports are on the rise during the pandemic. Separately, Kelly Hannah-Moffat, U of T’s vice-president, people strategy, equity and culture, noted in a statement that the Dec. 6 event also follows the recent attacks in Atlanta, Ga. against Asian women and the 2021 Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA+ People National Action Plan, which reports that “Indigenous women and girls are 12 times more likely to be murdered or missing than non-Indigenous women.”
“Ending gender-based violence on our campuses and in society at large requires individual and collective will,” said Hannah-Moffat. “In your reflections on December 6, please consider what choices you can make to help us move from remembrance to action.”
In a tribute video, U of T Engineering students read the names of each of the victims of the Polytechnique massacre aloud. The Skule orchestra also performed the intermezzo from Pietro Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana at the online event.
Meanwhile, at Convocation Hall on the St. George campus, U of T Engineering students marked the anniversary of the tragedy by erecting a memorial to the victims: a simple white rose stemming from a wooden base inscribed with the names of all 14 women.
The virtual event was also used to announce the winners of student scholarships for research in the area of gender-based violence.