The UBC engineering community gathered virtually today to honour the 14 women killed 31 years ago and reflect on persistent gender-based discrimination in the applied sciences.
On December 6, 1989, an armed man entered a mechanical engineering class at École Polytechnique in Montréal. After ordering all the men to leave, he shot 14 women solely on the basis of their gender.
The memorial began with brief remarks from Dr. Mina Hoorfar, director of the UBC Okanagan School of Engineering and Sam Wells, president of the UBCO Engineering Society. Following them came Emma Dodyk, president of UBC’s Engineering Undergraduate Society (EUS), and Bowinn Ma, UBC engineering alumna and MLA.
Wells said that remembering the victims is not enough.
“We must have those difficult conversations to address the issues that caused their tragic deaths 30 years ago and ensure that while their brave voices were lost, the legacy they left behind is the path to the future,” said Wells.
Bowinn Ma, a graduate from UBC’s civil engineering program and the fourth female president of the EUS, acknowledged that it’s easy to hear about 14 Not Forgotten and regard it as a tragedy that happened a long time ago.
“We might imagine that it was something that happened in the past, that it is something we have learned from, moved forward from, but it really wasn’t that many years ago,” she said. “… Sexism impacts the studies we undertake, the jobs we get, the money we make, the opportunities we are offered and the opportunities we take.”
After a video of engineering students reading the biographies of each victim and a live stream of a student laying white roses for each victim on a permanent memorial situated outside the Engineering Design Centre, attendees observed a moment of silence.
During the following panel discussion, an attendee asked how we can draw larger audiences at events like 14 Not Forgotten and work to change people’s thoughts about gender-based discrimination.
Ma offered a strategy she said she implements as an MLA. In finding ways to have your voice heard, Ma finds it effective to raise issues with people where they are.
Although Dr. Sheryl Staub-French, Applied Science associate dean of equity, diversity and inclusion, agreed, she highlighted the need for strong leadership that tackles gender-based discrimination.
“We need to talk about this in terms of being what makes a good engineer. A good engineer is an ally. A good engineer is respectful to everybody and stands up for people when they are not being respected,” Staub-French said.
Hoorfar added that everyone is responsible for delivering messages of change.
“I know it’s better than 30 years ago, but still we are not there. I want to talk about the university as a symbol that can take a role here. If faculty members, staff , students started talking about it in an open-minded, safe environment in our curriculum, in our classes, in our meetings — believe me, slowly the culture will start to change.”
Dodyk said that while there is an increased amount of targeted professional development for women in engineering, organizations need constant reminders that they have a lot of work to do to become truly inclusive.
“I hope that people will hear the perspectives of the community members who are speaking and be able to relate that to how they can implement actions in their own lives, classes [or] organizations that they lead or even just in their friend groups — to make sure that we are doing better and working towards a more inclusive group.”