As many of you know, today marks the 27th anniversary of a terrible tragedy within the engineering community.
For those who are not aware: A 25 year old armed gunman (Marc Lépine) entered Montreal’s École Polytechnique campus on December 6th 1989. During his short visit to the campus, Marc entered an engineering building and killed 12 female students, a receptionist and a nurse (also female) on grounds of “hating feminism”.
Despite his lack of post-secondary education and dismissal from the military on grounds of instability, in his suicide note Mr. Lépine blamed a series of recent downturns in his life on women taking liberties he didn’t believe they were entitled to. Before turning the firearm on himself, Marc wounded 14 other students and staff, 10 of them women with the notable addition of 4 young men unwilling to stand aside.
The names of the deceased are as follows: Geneviève Bergeron, Hélène Colgan, Nathalie Croteau, Barbara Daigneault, Anne-Marie Edward, Maud Haviernick, Maryse Laganière, Maryse Leclair, Anne-Marie Lemay, Sonia Pelletier, Michèle Richard, Annie St-Arneault, Annie Turcotte and Barbara Klucznik-Widajewicz.
This history lesson is tragic and gruesome but it’s also an important time in our past to reflect upon. Although not all of these women claimed to be feminists, the very fact that they were involved in an engineering program in the 80’s made them remarkable. These women made the decision, as all of us in this program have, to become society’s innovators rather than wait for someone else to fix the world around them. The difference is, they made the choice to follow this path despite the obvious infrastructural and cultural barriers to their success which in my humble opinion would have taken a tremendous amount of courage.
I recognize that I write this message from a position of privilege, I have never had anyone doubt my ability to find a place in the engineering community due to preconceived notions about my gender, beliefs, background or skin colour. However, this doesn’t mean that I can’t be aware of some of the institutional bias which still exists.
It is our responsibility as a community to ensure that the brightest young innovators have access to encouragement, education and the chance to earn the respect of their peers regardless of demographic. It’s extremely important at all times, but especially times like these for our engineering family to draw nearer and remind each other that there is a place in our community for anyone with a passion for innovation and the desire to improve the world we share.
Ask your Engineering Student Societies if a memorial service will be held at your school over the next few days for the students whose dreams were prematurely cut short. If you’ve never attended your school’s memorial I would highly recommend it.
Take care of each other.