On December 6, 1989, I was in first year engineering at what was then called “The University of Western Ontario” (now Western University). There were few women in the first year program, and less in my electrical engineering class. It wasn’t that women weren’t capable of being in STEM, we were often blatantly discouraged from focusing on maths and sciences throughout high school. If a female needed tutoring, generally we were guided towards a “quick fix” steering us towards another major. I saw my friends throw their hands up in despair as they met with constant frustration. When we wanted to apply for a STEM based program, we were often told that the average for us to enter was quite high. We never knew then that this seemed something unique to women at the time. Those of us who did get into engineering were often mocked. I once was told that I “ was chosen to be in electrical engineering because I was filling a required quota”. It was disgusting times. You had to have a strong constitution to put up with the constant stress. Once in the program, we were then faced with the often disgusting and misogynistic jokes of our male counterparts. They belittled us for everything that we stood for.
We worked hard to be where we were, and we put up with a lot of abuse, but none of us ever thought we would have to die because of who we were. That’s what happened at the faculty of engineering of École Polytechnique in Montreal. One man (who was later found to be an anti-feminist), went into the engineering faculty with a gun, separated the women from the men and began to shoot. I can’t even write about it, because the memory is still so fresh in my mind (even though it happened so many years ago). Then, in April of 1990, one of our own engineering students went missing. Lynda Shaw’s was only 21 at the time. Her picture was posted all over campus and the surrounding area. All of us felt a similar dread. We hoped for the best, yet feared the worst. Her body was found a week later.
It would be very difficult to have gone through this and not be affected by it. I can’t believe those two occurrences happened so close together! At the time, it felt like they occurred far apart from one another. I’m not sure why. Maybe it was a coping mechanism?
I have come to the conclusion, while writing this article, that I never healed from these tragedies. That I never understood why they took place. And I certainly never felt safe on campus in the years that followed.
My only hope is that the young women of today will know a different life. That they will fight against injustices and gender based biases. That they will not bend when criticized for being who and what they want to become in life. And that their voices will be heard when they mention their grievances. May we only know happiness and success as a collective and may the memory of all of the lost souls never be forgotten.