On Sept. 24, Concordia University made history by becoming the first Canadian university to name its engineering faculty after a woman. The decision to rename the faculty the Gina Cody School of Engineering and Computer Science came after engineer and entrepreneur Gina Cody, a Concordia alumna, donated $15 million to the university to increase the visibility of underrepresented groups in the engineering field.
Cody immigrated to Canada from Iran in 1979 after obtaining a bachelor’s degree from Aryamehr University of Technology in Tehran. She was one of the only women in her cohort and became the first woman to graduate from Concordia with a building engineering PhD in 1989. Cody worked relentlessly over the next 30 years to establish herself as a leader in the field and was named one of Canada’s Top Female Entrepreneurs in 2010.
“I would go to a meeting where there were 700 men, and I would be the only woman in that conference,” Cody wrote in a press release from Concordia about the renaming. “I was respected for who I am because of my knowledge and understanding of the area of my practice.”
Cody hopes that her donation will provide for future generations by adding three new research chairs, providing scholarships, and financing new equity initiatives.
McGill is experiencing its own reckoning with regards to renaming buildings, teams, and scholarships with inappropriate historical connotations. To address these concerns, the McGill Senate established the Working Group on Principles of Commemoration and Renaming in January 2018 to guide its policies. In an email to The McGill Tribune, the Working Group co-chairs Robert Leckey, professor and dean in the Faculty of Law, and Anja Geitmann, professor and dean in the Faculty of Agricultural Sciences, underlined the importance of names to an institution’s identity.
“Names of buildings and faculties carry and instill a sense of place and a sense of history and are therefore of crucial importance for an institution,” Leckey and Geitmann wrote. “If buildings of an institution are exclusively named after individuals that belong to a certain group, students that do not belong to this group may lack a role model that illustrates the path to professional success and visibility.”
Amin Bouabdellah and Constantina Roumeliotis, vice-president external affairs and president of the Engineering and Computer Science Association of Concordia (ECA), are optimistic about the positive impact the renaming will have.
“Gina Cody’s story reaffirms the fact that engineering is not at all a field exclusively for men,” Bouabdellah and Roumeliotis wrote in an email to the Tribune. “We’re hoping that the renaming of the school will send a message to girls all over Canada and the rest of the world: That they can succeed in the field and that the Gina Cody School of Engineering and Computer Science will give them all the tools they need to achieve their success.”
By changing the cultural conditions that lead to underrepresentation in certain fields, the ECA hopes to emphasize the diversity that already exists and foster a more inclusive environment in the future.
“We want to create a culture that’s open and welcoming to everyone at Concordia, and, in order to do so, that can sometimes mean changing the way things have been done in the past,” Bouabdellah and Roumeliotis wrote. “As student leaders, we need to be mindful of the diversity that exists in Engineering, and we’re always looking for ways to make everyone feel welcome and a part of the engineering community at Concordia.”