Gathering to remember and enact change
Acadia University students, faculty, and staff took to the stage to commemorate 14 engineering and nursing students who lost their lives at the École Polytechnique in Montreal in 1989. Held in the Al Whittle Theatre on December 6, the sombre ceremony focused on remembering those lost and taking action to stop violence against women.
The audience was provided with the history of the École Polytechnique tragedy. Motivated by a hatred of women in science, a man killed 14 female students and injured 13 others at the Montreal engineering school.
Remembering the women holds special significance for Acadia science student Adrienna Marchand. She worked with a team to help plan the downtown march and ceremony and hosted with Ciara Brookes, Coordinator of the Women’s Centre, an evening candlelight vigil at University Hall.
“It is disheartening to think that women my age, in a STEM field, were killed for trying to further their education and break down barriers in an area of work that men mainly dominate,” says Marchand, who also serves as co-president of Acadia’s Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) group.
“As we read the names of the 14 women who were killed one by one and turned off a candle in their memory, it painted a life for each of these women and demonstrated how that was wrongfully taken away from them,” she recalls.
Marchand says she finds comfort in the tight-knit community at Acadia. “So many people here rally together to help make every event like this one so incredible.”
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We all play a role
Allison Smith, Acadia’s Coordinator of Sexualized Violence Response and Education, says gathering as a community is important.
“The gathering was powerful, impactful, and a joining of voices across generations,” she says. “Regardless of race, gender, and who we are as individuals, I believe we all play a role in ending gender-based violence.”
While some conditions have evolved since the Montreal tragedy, Smith says much more work remains to be done. “We see this in the consistently alarming rates of violence against women and gender-diverse people in our province, country, and globally,” she says.
Organizers of the December 6 event also observed recent tragedies, including the alleged serial killing of four Indigenous women in Winnipeg and the death of Mahsa Amini, who was arrested for showing her hair by ‘morality police’ in Iran.
Psychology professor Dr. Randy Newman addressed the audience as a long-serving board member of a local women’s shelter, Chrysalis House. She shared how challenging it is to protect women and children from violence and how shelters in our region are at or beyond capacity.
They could have been any of us
“Sometimes, it feels like violence against women is so pervasive that we feel powerless,” says Smith. But she also sees ways for people to make a difference.
She recommends attending commemorative services and “listening to and believing survivors of gender-based violence and learning about issues close-to-home, such as the ongoing crisis of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls, and Two-Spirit people, which has impacted communities and families across Canada.”
Polly Leonard, Acadia’s Equity Diversity and Inclusivity Officer, says recognizing the National Day of Remembrance and Action for Violence Against Women is a way to relate to the 14 women.
“Femicide is a major issue in Canada,” Leonard says. “It is the number one crime that continues to rise in Canada. Misogyny is here on campus, it is scary, and I have seen it.”
Remembering the victims is just one step. We must remember these women so that we can work to prevent another tragedy. They could have been any of us, and they can still be us.”
Still, Leonard says there are many ways to learn more and combat societal issues.
Education is key
“We have an ethical responsibility to ourselves and our campus community to continue to educate ourselves on how to become “good ancestors,” she says, quoting Layla F. Saad. “Learning how to be gender inclusive, anti-racist, accessible and affirmative in our support and approach to students and employees will help us in the struggle against structural inequities, like violence against women and colonialism.”
Leonard recommends learning what microaggressions look like, taking bystander intervention training, learning about the White Ribbon Campaign, and joining the Equity Office and Residence Education Coordinator’s next Book Club.
“Even reading a challenging book over the holiday will push you to step outside your comfort zone and learn other people’s perspectives,” she says, recommending Julie S Lalonde’s Resilience is Futile.
Learn about the Right to Be’s 5 Ds of Bystander Intervention and take direct action, delegate, delay, distract, and document the next time you witness or experience harassment, discrimination, or violence.
Read the policies online and come and chat with Smith or Leonard about ways to support the community productively.
A community effort
The December 6 gathering was presented as a collective initiative because of the collaboration among various participants, led by the English department head Dr. Anne Quéma. The groups involved included Women’s and Gender Studies, the Equity Office, the Women’s Centre, WISE, the Office of the President, and the communities of Wolfville and Acadia University.