Students demand safety, accountability from university GroundUp rallies for change after stabbing attack at UW

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Yesterday afternoon, local inter-activist group GroundUp held a rally outside of Hagey Hall to stand against transphobia, queerphobia, and misogyny. The event was organized in response to Wednesday’s stabbing attack at Hagey Hall, which the Waterloo Regional Police Services believes “was a hate-motivated incident related to gender expression and gender identity.”  

“I have honestly been wired since yesterday after hearing the news about the stabbing that happened,” said Zara, rally speaker and current UW student. “Wednesday’s attack is the culmination of rising hate and bigotry in Canada. We have seen a huge rise in transphobia, in misogyny, in attacks from the far-right, and fascists.” 

In her speech, Zara also cited the failure of the university’s emergency broadcast system “which did not notify students that they were in danger” as one way that the UW administration failed to protect its students. Another way the university failed, she said, was by keeping campus open right after the attack

“We are being forced to go back to work where some have midterms just outside of this building where three students were stabbed,” she said. “We should not pretend that the UW administration is listening to us, and we should demand change.” 

Paola Condo

Carla, one of the rally speakers and a recent graduate, also urged for greater honesty not only from the university administration but from community members who distanced themselves from local issues of bigotry and fascism. “I think we’re honestly just gaslighting ourselves into thinking the problem isn’t here for us,” she said. “If it’s not you today, it could be someone you love tomorrow, and that’s a big scary real reality that only now are some people beginning to understand.” 

“When I saw the news, my morning was so rough, I cried,” she added. “I felt this sense of ‘Wow, I’ve taken a women’s studies class before, I recently just finished being a student.’ I think places I thought were guaranteed safe places no longer are.”

Students demand better security 

“I am furious, I am frustrated, I am angry,” said Monica Straehl with regards to the university administration’s failure to inform students as soon as the attack began. Straehl, a rally attendee, recently graduated from UW’s psychology program. “There were people on the fourth floor who weren’t even told until it was too late. People were wandering out in the hallways.”

“Three people were injured, [and] it could’ve been so much worse,” she said of the attack, which she compared to the massacre that occurred at Montreal’s Polytechnic Institute in 1989, where 14 female engineering students were murdered in a targeted attack. “Thirty years later, nothing has changed,” Straehl said. 

Straehl also criticized the university’s refusal to renovate arts classrooms on campus like the one where the attack had taken place. “There’s no way to escape out the window, through the back. You’re gonna have forty students crammed in a class? And then what? There’s only one door, only one exit,” she said. 

Another rally attendee, fourth-year psychology student Kalyani Menon, felt, like Straehl, that the university needed more security measures on campus. She specifically listed the lack of emergency buttons, the campus being poorly lit, and the absence of a program where students can be safely walked home at night like the one at McMaster.

Menon also emphasized the need for the university to foster a greater sense of inclusion. “There’s this culture at UW that really needs to change,” Menon said. “There are definitely echo chambers within the community, specifically within the men community, [and] these echo chambers that embolden certain attitudes.” 

Aaliyah, rally speaker and current third-year liberal arts student, also believed that the university could do a lot more in terms of security, citing, like many others, the failure of the WatSAFE app. “The university should take actions at increasing their security and making it safe for everyone.” 

Community together

Event attendees first arrived on scene carrying various Pride flags and signs with slogans and taglines such as “No More Shit,” “This is Why We Still Need Pride,” “Protect Trans Kids,” and “Misogyny is an Epidemic.” Similar messages were scrawled on the ground in rainbow chalk.

“In a way, it’s overwhelming,” Aaliyah said on seeing all the students, faculty, and community members gathered at the rally. “But it’s also nice to see a massive crowd of people attending… I’m really glad we have a massive community in UWaterloo.” 

Jazz Fitzgerald, manager of Student Equity and Community and event attendee, said it was “really beautiful” to see folks gathering together as a community after Wednesday’s events. “I’ve been in this work a long time, and I think just knowing many of the students here, it feels like the only thing we could do … so I’m really thankful for the organizers of this.”