Dec. 6, 2018

1989 Montreal massacre redefined engineering prof's career direction

National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women event on campus Dec. 6
National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women
National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women Photo by Riley Brandt

She recalls the day all too well, when a feminist-loathing maniac slaughtered 14 women in a Montreal post-secondary, stating, “You're women, you're going to be engineers,” before pulling the trigger.

For Janet Ronsky, like thousands of other female students in Canada and around the world, the terrible news out of École Polytechnique de Montréal on Dec. 6, 1989 became something very personal.

Woman, engineer and student

Ronsky was both of those things, a woman and an engineer, and she was a student, too, studying for her master's in mechanical engineering (biomechanics) at the University of Calgary.

Now one of Canada’s leading biomedical engineering researchers and a professor at the Schulich School of Engineering, Dr. Janet Ronsky, PhD, says the killer’s decision to murder female students may have actually changed the course of her own career.

“It made me feel incredibly upset, and disappointed. I felt, not helpless, but very angry and targeted because it was my gender and that seemed very wrong, and it appeared to me there was such a lack of understanding,” explains Ronsky, who also holds joint appointments at the Faculty of Kinesiology and Cumming School of Medicine.

“I was an engineer, and in terms of determination, it made me want to work within the system, whatever the system was, to make it more inclusive and to help educate people so these sort of things don’t happen.

“That day could have been the seed of when I started thinking about going on into academics.”

Engineering faculty hosting memorial

It’s perhaps fitting that the engineering faculty — a school with an outspoken mandate to embrace diversity — will play host to the University of Calgary’s annual memorial to those who died.

It takes place Thursday, Dec. 6, from 12:15 to 1 p.m. in the Canadian Natural Resources Limited Engineering Complex main atrium, a location that also honours the fact that 12 of the 14 women being remembered were engineering students.

The National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women gathering pays homage, while speaking out against the anti-female pathosis that drove Marc Lepine to kill.

“This is a day of awareness, to remind ourselves that complacency is never an option when it comes to equality and the need to confront violence against women and girls," says Dr. Bill Rosehart, Schulich School of Engineering dean.

President Cannon to speak

Speakers at the event include University President and Vice-Chancellor Dr. Elizabeth Cannon, as well as Marcela Coelho Lopes, vice-president external, Graduate Students’ Association, and Sagar Grewal, president of the Students’ Union.

Dr. Qiao Sun, associate dean of diversity and equity at Schulich, says the day of action is about remembering the 14 who died in Montreal and ensuring constant vigilance against the violence still taking place.

“Remembering this horrific event has become the basis of recognizing and supporting action against widespread violence committed against women in our society,” says Sun.