Last updated: February 25, 2011 1:14 pm
Sexist posters spark criminal investigation at Waterloo
Student leader hopes incident doesn’t deter women from getting involved
WATERLOO, Ont. (CUP) — Natalie Cockburn was disappointed to see the misogynistic attack on female candidates running in the University of Waterloo’s student federation election.
Earlier this month, an anonymous attacker put posters up over the posters of female candidates depicting Nobel Prize-winning chemist and physicist Marie Curie. The posters read "THE TRUTH. 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."
A fraudulent email with the poster attached said to be from UW president Feridun Hamdullahpur was also sent out and social media outlets were used to spread the sexist messages.
“On Feb. 9, in response to seeing the posters up around campus that denigrated women, they were taken down immediately by campus police,” said Ellen Rethore, associate vice-president of communications and public affairs for UW.
The university’s police service has launched a criminal investigation to determine the identity of the attacker.
Cockburn, who was elected vice-president of education during this month’s campaign, expressed her displeasure that the individual or individuals responsible for the incidents would use the electoral process as a way to proliferate their message.
“It was fairly unfortunate that an individual would choose the election process as a way to send a message of this nature out,” she said, “And I don’t think it was necessarily a personal one — I think it was an attack at women in general.”
In the wake of the events, the university’s women’s centre and the queer and questioning community centre have been temporarily closed, though they assured the community their services could be accessed through e-mail and telephone.
The events have sparked an outcry from students of feelings of uncertainty on campus, which was highlighted during a panel discussion on Feb. 18, where audience members were given the opportunity to ask questions of those present.
Participants in the panel included Dave Mackay, from the university’s counselling services, Bud Walker, an associate provost, and Dan Anderson, the university’s police services director.
A number of students expressed feeling unsafe on campus even before the election incident. Anderson replied to these allegations by describing the Waterloo campus as “a very safe place.”
“We certainly have crimes here, we certainly have violent crimes here, but in comparison to the rest of society or the rest of our broader community in Waterloo region, this is a very safe campus,” he said.
Cockburn echoed Anderson’s view, saying she has personally never felt unsafe on campus, including during recent events, though she looks forward to addressing student concerns during her tenure with the student federation.
“It’s good that it came to our attention and hopefully once I get into office it’s something that we can continue the dialogue on,” said Cockburn.
Security on the campus has been heightened and long-term plans have been examined for future security on campus for all students. For one, after the posters were identified on campus, security was heightened in buildings and on the campus’ grounds.
“This whole issue has also been identified and is on the agenda for our diversity committee,” explained Rethore. “The diversity committee will clearly be paying full attention to the situation and that will be something I expect we will hear back from them on in the future.”
Despite using the election as a vehicle for the attack, Cockburn said she is hopeful women won’t be discouraged from participating in elections on campus, particularly since the attack seemed to be “a statement against women at large.”
“There are a lot of fantastic women, a number of fantastic women that just have so much to offer,” said Cockburn, “And I really hope that they won’t be discouraged to come forward and exercise their potential.”