Day of remembrance is opportunity to reflect on gender-based violence

Nanotechnology engineering student works to foster a welcoming environment for women in engineering

By Taylor Legere

University Relations

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Rawoofeen Chowdhury Rawoofeen Chowdhury hopes the December 6 vigil for the women killed during the mass shooting at l'École Polytechnique de Montréal in 1989, will inspire conversations about diversity, inclusion and all forms of gender-based violence.

December 6 is the 28th anniversary of the Montreal Massacre, when a gunman walked into an engineering classroom and separated the men from the women before killing 14 women and screaming, “I hate feminists.”

“I think it’s very important to commemorate those 14 young women. The day also gives us an opportunity to reflect on what we are doing within our communities, our schools, and especially our classes to support women and address those issues,” said Rawoofeen Chowdhury, an undergraduate nanotechnology engineering student.

Students, faculty, staff and community members are invited to attend a vigil on December 6 at 3 pm at the Sedra Student Design Centre in Engineering 5. Please register here to attend the commemoration.

“The loss of these young women was a loss for the entire engineering community in terms of the ideas and creativity that they would have brought to the profession,” said Karim Karim, associate dean of outreach and chair of Women in Engineering. “This tragic event continues to serve as a reminder to increase diversity in engineering programs nationally.”

Chowdhury says it’s an issue that concerns everyone, not just women. “To have my male peers come out to some of the Women in Engineering events and to not just take part in the conversation but really support the topics we were talking about has been really amazing.”

Chowdhury has made it priority to make other young women feel welcomed and supported in the engineering community as an undergraduate director of women in engineering and as a peer leader in the women in engineering living-learning community at St. Paul’s University College.

One of the barriers Chowdhury had to overcome as a female in engineering was the stereotype of it being a male dominated field. Her hope is that the next generation of women won’t be questioned for wanting to pursue engineering.

“STEM initiatives should focus on empowering young girls and creating an environment for them to see that engineering is an option as valid as any other program,” said Chowdhury. “The solution needs to start much earlier than when university applications roll around.”

Karim also emphasizes the importance of helping women feel more comfortable pursuing engineering.

“Increasing diversity is a goal that the Faculty of Engineering takes very seriously and is committed to through its efforts to increase female recruitment and to provide them a nurturing community environment,” said Karim.