Thirty years after the Montreal Massacre violence against women remains pervasive in society.
As we pause to remember those innocent women who were murdered while attending class, we also have to reflect on the important fact that they were killed because they were women. There has been a long history of violence against women that began before that day 30 years ago.
And it continues today.
A key part of student-affairs work is cultivating living and learning environments that foster equity, diversity, and inclusion, and we know that addressing complex cultural issues like gender-based violence can only happen in collaboration.
On postsecondary campuses across Canada, student-affairs professionals work alongside other academic and administrative leaders, in partnership with student organizations, to do this important work. Student-affairs professionals are trained to advance learning outside the classroom which is where students can learn about healthy sexuality and acquire the skills they need to develop positive and healthy relationships.
Gender-based violence isn’t limited to our campuses either. Systemic social issues including sexism, racism, and homophobia, along with rape culture myths normalize violence against women. We are not immune to these social structures and therefore we are not immune from the violence they create.
Gender-based violence is complex, multifaceted, and insidious. It shapes and is shaped by day-to-day interactions that include the objectification of women in music and media, the silencing of women’s voices, efforts to control women’s bodies through social conformity or through physical violence, and demeaning jokes and sexist stories.
Gender-based violence is powerful because it is so normal. Men and women are both involved in sustaining the cultures that normalize it, which means we all have a role to play in disrupting those harmful social norms if we are to eradicate such violence.
We have seen change in the past 30 years, but there remains much more work to do before we can declare this problem solved.
This is work that I am committed to. I chose a career in student affairs because I am deeply committed to equity in education and because I value the expertise that student affairs professionals to the campus in engaging students in courageous dialogue on difficult issues.
This is our job.
Western is likewise committed to addressing gender-based violence. The university holds student safety as our top priority. We are committed to addressing all forms of gender-based and sexual violence, so that our campus can truly become a place where all students can thrive.
And it doesn’t end here.
As our students journey away from us when they graduate, we want to know that they are taking pieces of our thriving community with them, including a new outlook on how abnormal gender-based violence should be.
Jennifer Massey is the Associate Vice-President (Student Experience).