Last week, anti-female posters were placed around the campus of the University of Waterloo (UW) covering those of female candidates running in the student elections. These posters, entitled “The Truth,” featured a picture of Marie Curie and a caption which read: “The brightest woman this Earth ever created was Marie Curie, the Mother of the Nuclear bomb. You tell me if the plan of women leading men is still a good idea!”
Similar posters were also sent to faculty and students via email. And, if that wasn’t enough, a facebook group was also set up to further disseminate this anti-female message to UW students.
A criminal investigation has been launched by the UW Campus Police. They claim that this incident doesn’t meet the criteria of a hate crime against women. Instead, perpetrators are being sought on charges of unethical conduct (university policy breech), mischief and impersonation (criminal charges). Note that none of these charges are related to the anti-female content of these attacks.
Personally, after hearing the news, I was appalled at this blatant display of misogyny at my former university. I have also watched and listened to, with interest, the reactions in the community.
Some people have been quick to dismiss it as a prank or a senseless joke. Others, mostly university officials, are taking the issue seriously but are quick to label it an isolated incident. Despite this, what has been encouraging is the groundswell of action coming from students, faculty and community members. Together they are raising their voices to call this critical incident what it is, not a prank or isolated incident, but a product of the larger culture and climate on the UW campus. Take a listen to a recent panel discussion regarding sexism and hate speech on the campus here.
As you can hear, many female UW students will tell you that sexism on campus is nothing new. And, after this particular incident, many have been voicing their concerns regarding feeling unsafe on campus – again, nothing new.
However, what is new is that now they may have the attention of the University which is under both internal and external pressure following this incident.
There is an opportunity here to push for measures that would help make UW campus a more safe and supportive environment for female students. Changes could possibly include: implementing key card entry to all campus buildings after hours to improve security and monitoring; increased patrol of campus by UW police; increased funding for the UW Shuttle Service; ensuring representation from all equity-seeking groups on all University Advisory Committees; and perhaps even implementing more stringent university policies to deal with cases of sexism on campus.
Keep up the good fight!