Earlier today, student representatives from organizations across Canada, including WUSA and the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance (OUSA), led an urgent call to action, pushing for safe and violence-free campuses.
Katie Traynor, vice president of WUSA, said that as a student, she thought that the administrative response after the attack was one that a lot of students on campus were not satisfied with. She pointed to a stabbing incident last year at Claudette Millar Hall (CMH) as another example that caused UW students to feel unsafe.
“I think the rhetoric and sentiment around security and distrust from our university administrators really stems from this background of not feeling safe, not feeling protected, not feeling connected to our university as a whole,” she said. “One of the main dissociating factors with the way students feel and how the administrative response has occurred is that our community at the University of Waterloo hasn’t really been established, or we don’t have that sense of community, we don’t have that sense of place, and not having that sense of community and not having that sense of place exacerbates our fear of not being safe on our campus.”
“Hopefully, within, I would say, the next few months, we will get to see bigger accountability from our senior leadership at the university, and at this moment at WUSA, we will do our best to advocate for student issues.”
Vivien Chiem, president of OUSA, called the manner in which LGBTQ+ students feel unsafe “unacceptable.”
“The provincial governments need to act promptly and effectively to ensure that those pursuing and providing education are safe,” she said.
Chiem argued that preventing violence requires systemic policy change from provincial governments through a trauma-informed lens. She and the other reps requested three specific measures that the provincial government should take to create safer campuses.
First, she said the provincial government should collaborate with experts, gender-based violence educators, students, and those with lived experience to create a gender-based violence prevention framework for post-secondary institutions. Next, she said that the government should mandate that all post-secondary institutions perform regular campus safety audits to identify safety concerns and ensure that the mandatory safety and accessibility standards are being met. Lastly, she said the Ontario Association of College and University Security administrators should work with the Ministry of Labour, Training, and Skills Development to mandate and deliver training for all campus security officials in trauma-informed and survivor-centric responses to disclosures.
Student representatives from other undergraduate alliances also commented on the attack.
Manpreet Kaur, chairperson of the Alliance of BC students, dubbed the attack at the university “a symptom of an escalated crisis of hate and intolerance in our society and our public discourse which has deep roots in gender-based violence” , and cited the Alliance of BC Students, Possibility Seeds, Students for Consent Culture, and the Anti-Violence Project as groups that have been focused on implementing safety measures that are not merely reactive, but proactive.
“We know what the problem is, we’ve done the work, the only thing schools need is to get on board and support the work we’re doing to help us to keep safe,” she said.
Sofia Fabiano, President of StFX on the East Coast, said that there should be changes in hate, harassment, and discrimination policies, as well as measures in place to make students feel safer. “We need to ensure safe spaces for students, peer support groups, counselling, and other measures to support victims and targets of this violence,” she said.
She also pointed to the need for a multi-sector approach to countering violence. “Institutions have a responsibility in building safe campus communities but they can’t do that work alone. The work to end violence is rooted in community and will take a collective approach across sectors and the country to address it effectively.”
Aubrianna Snow, stakeholder relations specialist at Possibility Seeds’ Courage to Act project, a federally funded initiative meant to address gender-based violence on university campuses, said that all campuses should have a taskforce dedicated to addressing serious incidents like the one at UW and echoed the need for a multi-pronged approach to tackling violence, stressing that increasing police presence should not be the answer to issues of violence “to ensure that our responses don’t cause further harm to marginalized folks like racialized and 2SLGBTQ+ populations.”
“Campuses are a microcosm for greater social issues, and it makes sense we’re seeing divisions in society play out on post-secondary campuses,” she said.