Twenty-eight years ago this Wednesday, a gunman walked into the École Polytechnique engineering school in Montreal and opened fire. He targeted women explicitly, 14 of them losing their lives, making this act of gender-based violence the deadliest mass shooting in Canadian history.
Not far away in the city, Wendy Gentleman was in her first year of Mechanical Engineering studies at McGill University. The hate-fuelled crime left her and many others searching for answers on how to prevent such a tragedy from happening again.
It’s a campaign she continues to pursue to this day, now as an associate professor in Dal’s Engineering Mathematics and Interworking department.
Dr. Gentleman has collaborated with Dal’s Women in Engineering (WiE) Society this year on the memorial service to mark the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women on Wednesday, the 28th anniversary of the shooting.
Like other ceremonies at universities across Canada, Dal’s event — which takes place during the broader 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence — will commemorate the victims of the massacre and encourage action to end gender-based violence. Dr. Gentleman is one of several speakers at the event, which begins at 2 p.m. in Building B310 on Sexton Campus.
“It’s time to take it back,” says Dr. Gentleman, referring to the need to celebrate and encourage the further growth of women in engineering at Dal and beyond.
The event will commemorate the 14 women who lost their lives not just in speeches and images at the event, but with a new awards program called the 2017 Take Back December 6th Sisterhood Awards. Organized by Dr. Gentleman, the new nomination-based scholarships will be awarded at the event to 14 women, with each award named after each one of the École Polytechnique victims.
"I started to think about what I can do. How can I make a difference? How can I really affect people in ways that really matter?" she says of her decision to start the scholarship.
Funding for the awards, each valued at $1,000, comes from Josh Leon, dean of the Faculty of Engineering, a personal contribution from Dr. Gentleman, and from the offices of Dal President Richard Florizone and Dal Provost Carolyn Watters. Each recipient (or “Sister) will be presented with a framed award by WiE president Peggy Boyd and Rami Nassig, president of Dal’s undergraduate Engineering student society.
Education and awareness
Attendees at the event will also hear from several current Dal engineering students, including Nayani Jensen, who recently became Dal’s 91st recipient of the Rhodes Scholarship, and Amanda MacLean, the current ambassador for the Canadian Engineering Memorial Foundation. Both will speak about their experiences as young women in engineering.
Leah Parsons, whose 17-year old daughter Rehtaeh took her own life in 2013 after being cyberbullied, will be speaking about her advocacy group’s focus on wellness through education, awareness and the prevention of sexualized violence and cyber-abuse.
A candlelight vigil will close out the ceremony, with 12 engineering students, one nursing student and one administrator representing the slain women. The representatives will then lead attendees on a silent march to the Sexton Alumni lounge, where there will be more information and white ribbons available to symbolize the commitment to ending violence against women.
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