Commentary  Some day I will die

Hopefully not on campus

As Paulo Coelho says, everyone has their personal legend. Mine has been to become a McGill graduate with a PhD and reputable publications. For this purpose, I crossed oceans, leaving behind the warmth of my country. Once in Canada, I started learning how to cope with the tough winters.

I was raised to treat campus as a holy place. In holy places, we feel safe – this is how I always felt on campus. It wasn’t until last Monday that I realized I am not safe on campus: indeed, I was two minutes away from death.

I was heading across campus at 5 p.m. to meet some colleagues, to whom I had promised to bring doughnuts. So I parked my car next to the Islamic Studies building, where some students had been chitchatting before they moved out of the way so I could park.

One hundred and twenty seconds later, I returned to find security guards surrounding my car. I couldn’t figure out what had happened until one of the guards said, “I’m sorry. A huge chunk of ice fell from the roof and damaged your car. We’re now expecting more ice chunks to fall from the roof.”

The idea that I could have been inside the car reading, eating, or finishing some work terrified me. I shivered when I imagined that the students who had been talking there could have still been there when the ice fell. I immediately thanked God that no one was hurt.

I had never thought about the possibility of ice falling from the roof and causing death, injuries, or damages. Where I come from, the temperature doesn’t drop below 10 degrees in the winter; I’m not completely familiar with the extent of the potential dangers of the winter in Canada.

The problem goes beyond a damaged car: it’s directly related to students’ safety. I was very angry when the security guard apologized, saying that security ought to have blocked the area because of the raised temperature, which caused the ice to melt and fall off the roof. I couldn’t accept this apology: it had been warm since morning; the incident happened at 5 p.m. Why hadn’t security guards blocked the area off in the morning?
Later on, I learned that the construction design of the Islamic Studies library is one of the dangerous buildings on campus, in terms of ice falling from the roof. Knowing that this area has such heavy foot traffic, I find this irresponsibility outrageous. While the security guard was talking to me, I decided to control my anger, hold my emotions until I absorbed the shock, and then, rationally address the issue with the administration.

I emailed Deputy Provost Morton Mendelson and Vice-Principal (University Services), Jim Nicell, and contacted Parking Services about the incident and my concerns. They have been all very responsive and supportive. I met with Nicell, and highlighted that I would like to feel safe once again on campus.

It’s unfortunate that this incident happened. But bad things happen for good reasons. The University’s response made me feel they will prioritize the issue. I proposed to the Parking Services that they create an informational brochure so that people parking on campus – not all of whom are from Canada – will be aware of the dangers they might be exposed to during winter on campus. I hope the Administration will soon develop new protocols for securing risky areas like the Islamic Studies, James Administration, and MacDonald-Harrington buildings. I know this is no easy task – there are 220 buildings on campus – so as students, we should pay attention to danger signs.

No one can guarantee a 100 per cent safe environment, but it’s vital to address safety issues, raise awareness, and collaborate – students, administration, and staff – to achieve a safer environment.

Should our lives stop? Should we become afraid? Surely not. This is part of the winter weather in Canada. It’s true I have learned this lesson the hard way, but positive thoughts bring positive energy. So let’s stay positive.

Dahlia ElShafie is a PhD II Electrical Engineering student and the vice-president (University & Academic Affairs) of PGSS. The views expressed here are her own. Write her at