December 6, 2017 – Every year on Dec. 6, people across the country remember the victims of École Polytechnique shooting and raise awareness about gender-based violence. At U of T, events are taking place across all three campuses for the National Day of Remembrance & Action on Violence Against Women.
On Dec. 6, 1989, an armed man entered the École Polytechnique in Montreal. He shot 28 people, killing 14 women, before turning the gun on himself. The shooter proclaimed his hatred for feminists, targeting female engineering students for pursuing a career he believed should be occupied exclusively by men.
The killer failed to scare women out of the sciences. This year, for example, a record number of female students enrolled in U of T’s Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering.
For the past two years, women have made up 40 per cent of first-year engineers at U of T – the highest proportion in Canada. The number of female engineering faculty members has also doubled in the past decade.
U of T Engineering students Elizabeth White (Year 4 ChemE) and Julia Filiplic (Year 4 MechE) say they are fortunate to have families who encouraged them to pursue a career about which they were passionate.
“I was really lucky in a sense that no one told me I couldn’t do it,” says White.
But both students say they have female friends and classmates who were discouraged by their families from studying engineering or male-dominated engineering disciplines.
In class, Filiplic says some of her male classmates would dismiss her ideas while White has overheard male students calling a female student “bossy.”
“Some people are afraid of change and are afraid of having new perspectives and being told that their idea of something is maybe a little bit outdated,” says Filiplic. “To be able to go forward and know you’re changing things and you have the support of other women and other people – it’s exciting and it’s better when you know you can do it safely.”
White and a group of engineering students are creating a monument to honour victims of violence against women – this year focusing on missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit people. The structure will be on display on King’s College Circle on Dec. 6.