Remembering tragedy, inspiring change

Raising awareness of violence against women

Ryan McNutt - December 6, 2013


It’s a tragedy that occurred before many current students were even born, but students and alumni alike still make time each December to remember its legacy and draw attention to the issue of violence against women.

Twenty-four years ago this Friday, a gunman entered École Polytechnique in Montreal, Quebec. Targeting female students and faculty in particular — claiming he was “fighting feminism” — the gunman killed 14 women, with 14 other individuals injured before the individual shot himself. Since then, the day has been commemorated as the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women.

Given that the event targeted a polytechnic school, the tragedy has always had particular resonance among engineering students. Each year, the Dalhousie Women in Engineering Society hosts a candlelight vigil on Sexton Campus.

This year’s memorial takes place Friday at 7 p.m. in the Alumni Lounge, and will feature speeches from Dal staff member Lyndsay Anderson and faculty member Wendy Gentleman, who was a student in Montreal at the time of the tragedy.

“It’s important to remember,” says student Kaitlin Miles, a member of the Women in Engineering Society and one of the event organizers. “I wasn’t even alive at the time, but the theme that comes out of it focuses on violence against women more generally, which continues through today. We all have a part to play in raising awareness and working to prevent it.”

A white ribbon for change

One effort that emerged in the wake of the tragedy is the “white ribbon campaign,” which honours the memory of the 14 women who were murdered but also represents a commitment on the part of men and women alike “never to commit, condone or remain silent about violence against women and girls.”

This year, the Women’s Division of the Dalhousie Alumni Association is supporting the campaign by distributing posters and more than 500 ribbons to major faculty and student offices and residences across campus, inviting students, faculty and staff to wear a white ribbon and join them in making the pledge.

Margaret Cameron, president of the Women’s Division, says the campaign’s reach stretches beyond simply remembering the tragedy.

“We’re encouraging everybody to wear the ribbon and show that we’re unified in attempting to develop a culture that’s more respectful of everybody, but especially women and girls,” she explains.

“Many of us in the Women’s Division are mothers and grandmothers, and we recognize the challenge young women and girls in our society face. Our involvement in the White Ribbon Campaign demonstrates our commitment to work towards a safer, violence-free environment for women and girls.”

A number of the ribbons have been distributed at Shirreff Hall, where Corey Wheaton, President of the Resident Council, and his fellow council members are enthusiastic supporters.

“It’s about setting an example and sending a message,” he says. “It’s a cause, and a campaign, that’s important that students know about.”

Cameron advises supporters who haven’t found a ribbon on campus to simply make one themselves, and show support for this important cause.

To learn more about the white ribbon campaign, visit


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