The University of Guelph’s School of Engineering will host an in-person observance of the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women on Dec. 6.

Held since 1991, the annual event marks the massacre of 14 young women on Dec. 6, 1989, at Polytechnique Montréal. Twelve of the women were engineering students, one was a nursing student and another was a budget clerk in the school’s financial department.

image of white posters with text and photos of the women killed in the Dec. 6 massacre hang in a row along a grey brick wall
Posters of the victims of the Dec. 6 massacre maintained in U of G’s Thornborough Building

The event is for the U of G community and begins at 1:45 p.m. in the Adams Atrium, Thornbrough Building.

COVID 19 protocols will be in effect, including checking at the door for proof of vaccination, ID and the COVID-19 screening form confirmation email as well as collecting contact information for contact tracing. Masks and physical distancing are required.

White ribbons that have come to symbolize the event will be available.

The event is open only to the U of G community and there is a capacity limit.

The Dec. 6 observance involves three themes: remember, reflect, respond.  Dr. Soha Eid Moussa, a professor in U of G’s School of Engineering who has helped organize the event, will speak on “remembering.” Two engineering students will speak on past and current conditions for women in the discipline.

“I will talk about being the same age as the victims — one month away from starting my master’s degree,” said Moussa, who had just completed an engineering degree at the American University in Cairo, Egypt, at the time of the tragedy.  “I may talk about my reaction and that of those around me — the shock, disbelief and distress. Depending on how emotional I become, I am not sure how much I will actually be able to say.”

Women in university hallway wearing white hijab
Dr. Soha Moussa, School of Engineering

Each year, many U of G students are involved in organizing and attending the solemn occasion, said Moussa. The moving event often introduces the tragedy of the Polytechnique Montréal massacre to many individuals who may not know the significance of the date, she added.

“The event is primarily led by students who take us through a reflection on what happened that day, its impact and the challenges that remain,” said Dr. Ashutosh Singh, School of Engineering and event co-organizer. “It is an opportunity for people to reflect on the reasons for the violence that happened on that day and the ongoing micro-aggressions that women in engineering and STEM in general continue to experience due to their career choice.”

Moussa said it is important to raise awareness that the perpetrator of the murders was “othering” women, seeing them as intrinsically different and turning them into the enemy in his eyes.

“But it is also important to raise awareness to the fact that othering continues to happen in many forms,” Moussa said. “People are targeted for their gender, their race and/or their faith.  The hope is that by raising awareness of this, we can try to break that pattern of othering.  We are all one human race and we need to work together and support one another.”

Young Asian woman with face mask hold small box of white ribbons
Engineering student Grace Ly with white ribbons that will be given out for the event.

Othering is a symptom of hate — conscious or subconscious – that needs to be uncovered and fought, she said.

“Only when we are successful in eliminating the othering will we truly have found a way to prevent the next terrible act, no matter how small or large, from happening.”

Fourth-year engineering student Grace Ly, president of the Guelph Engineering Society at U of G, helped organize the event and will officiate it.

She said she is the same age as the women who were murdered, and the Dec. 6 event is a very emotional experience for her.

“As a woman, I am proud to be a part of organizing the event and having an opportunity to empower others to remember the 14 victims and commit to take action against violence against women.”