On Dec. 6 and the Blue Lights

Today, Dec 6, marks a particularly sad and horrifying anniversary, of the Montreal Massacre, where 14 women, mainly engineering students at the Ecole Polytechnique in Montreal, were gunned down simply because they were women and in Engineering. Like many people of my age, I remember very well what I was doing when I first heard the dreadful news: I had just returned home (then Halifax) from a trip to take my 8 month old daughter, Sarah, to visit her grandparents. I remember hugging her very close, feeling sorrow for the fathers and mothers who had lost their daughters that day, and worrying—what would the world be like when she became a young adult?

The Montreal Massacre coincided almost exactly with an unpleasant episode on Queen’ campus a few months previously, when banners were hung out of residence windows mocking the nascent “No means no” movement. I shan’t repeat the slogans, which were in many cases intended to be funny, but weren’t, even then (and especially not after Dec. 6 1989).  A lot of alumni wrote in to the university expressing how upset they were (I, by the way, was one of them). A few wrote in protesting “political correctness” on campus and arguing “boys will be boys”. It was not a happy time.

Nearly a quarter century later we as a country have made good progress in that few would question either the right or the profound success of women in engineering. Our own dean of Engineering and Applied Science is a woman, and three female engineers are presidents of leading universities out west. Our Faculty leads the country in enrolment of female engineering students. There’s similarly been a great deal of progress in social attitudes towards gender-based violence.  I’d be really surprised (and profoundly disappointed) if anyone among today’s generation of Queen’s students found anything remotely humorous in the subject of violence against women (which includes a number of dismal subcategories apart from sexual assault).

Lamentably, we’re not past acts of violence against women yet, and among other things the vigils every Dec. 6 remind us, annually of one of the worst incidents. It should remind us that similar ones occur daily throughout the country. And, yes, they do occur on campuses including (happily rarely) our own.

That’s why our Blue Light system is important. For nearly three decades it has been a key part (the AMS Walk-home service is another) of our community’s commitment to safety, a literal beacon of security. You shouldn’t ever walk by a Blue Light without reminding yourself of why it was put there. Sadly, there are some in our community who think it funny, daring, or fun, to set off our Blue Lights maliciously, or to vandalize them. There have been 38 activations categorized as mischief already this academic year, although the number could be much higher, as Campus Security was unable to determine the cause of another 142 activations.  Some of these malicious activations are related to a drinking game in which students try to earn a faculty jacket bar. While admittedly malicious blue light hits have decreased in 2012 as compared to 2011, this act still represents an incredible lack of judgment.

I would like to commend the AMS on their recent campaign to educate students on the use and misuse of blue lights and would also add that this AMS initiative can be looked on as a model for future initiatives promoting student safety.

I’m not usually this direct in my blog space, but guess what? It’s not funny. There are lots of arm bars you can earn for your jacket that mark worthy activities. Wearing the Blue Light bar says, to all students, female and male alike as well as your professors, “Look at me! I value my ability to set off or vandalize an important security alarm so I can have this badge much more highly than I value the safety of a student who might depend for her safety on its being functional! I think it’s cool to take our security teams away from watching for real incidents by distracting them with false alarms. Ha ha!”

If you are wearing it as a sign of having “pushed the button, drunk the beer, taped the can, and run”, then the Blue Light bar is, frankly, a badge of shame. Let me urge you not to pursue it, and not to engage in malicious triggering of Blue Lights (or, for that matter, fire alarms). Next time you see someone attempting to engage in one of these “harmless” pranks, ask them how they would feel if it were their sister or girlfriend were unable to receive assistance because of it. And remind them why we remember December 6.

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