President's Corner is a regular column from President Deep Saini.
Dear Dal Community,
Last month, the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence began with the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women on November 25. The Office of Equity & Inclusion, Human Rights & Equity Services, and Dalhousie’s Gender & Women’s Studies Program organized a Speak Truth to Power forum on eliminating gender-based violence that day. The clock tower at the Hicks Building was also lit orange that night to mark the international campaign, which concludes this Thursday (December 10).
So, today is an appropriate moment for me to reflect on last Sunday’s remembrance of the 14 bright young women tragically killed three decades ago at Montreal’s École Polytechnique: Geneviève Bergeron, Hélène Colgan, Nathalie Croteau, Barbara Daigneault, Anne-Marie Edward, Maud Haviernick, Barbara Klucznik-Widajewicz, Maryse Laganière, Maryse Leclair, Anne-Marie Lemay, Sonia Pelletier, Michèle Richard, Annie St-Arneault, and Annie Turcotte. The painful details of that horrific event feel just as fresh as they were on that fateful December evening in 1989.
It was two years, almost to the day, after I had joined the Université de Montréal as a young academic. I was on my way home at the end of what was a perfectly normal day at work, stuck in crawling traffic on the Autoroute Bonaventure, when I first heard the breaking news on the local CBC radio. École Polytechnique? In my own university? It was a particularly slow drive that day across the clogged Champlain bridge — or so it felt — and by the time I arrived at our suburban home, the extent of the horror had started to become apparent. I remember walking in and embracing my wife and daughters, who were unaware of what was happening. I remember being so choked up that it took me a long time before I could tell their baffled faces what I had just heard. We hugged many times over the following days as the reason for the shooting of those 24 women, 14 fatally, became progressively clearer.
That reason was an extreme case of a mentality that sadly still exists much more broadly. I notice the seeds of it when a friend tells me how she was once told, “You can’t be a doctor; you are a woman!” Or when a young legal professional shares how dismissive and condescending the older men facing her in the law courts are. And so on. Yes, we’ve made progress, or so it feels, from the days when I recall my own “rebellious” mother being disparaged for simply riding a bicycle in the rural India of the 1960s, but we still have quite a journey left ahead of us. This is the journey of the mindset of men towards a more equitable society, and it is a journey that we as men must own the responsibility for completing ourselves. And complete it we must.
So, my shout-out this week goes collectively to Dal’s Office of Human Rights and Equity Services, South House, the DSU Survivor Support Services and Dalhousie Women in Engineering Society, who not only hold the Ceremony of Remembrance and Resilience each year but, along with our many students, staff, faculty and researchers are dedicated to the elimination of sexualized and gender-based violence. Thank you for the critically important work you do.