Following the attack on a gender issues class on June 28, UW community members have expressed concerns about their safety, the university’s ability to respond to emergencies, and how it will maintain the openness key to a productive learning environment.
Aaron Miu, a second-year arts and business student who was near the classroom where the stabbings took place, described the fear he felt amidst the students running out of Hagey Hall and the police running in. “I later heard of the incident finally from one of the students and it did not make me feel good that I was not informed by the campus via email or anything. I do still feel safe around the campus, so long it’s not near the humanity courses,” Miu said.
Mira Wong, a first-year medicinal chemistry student, expressed her concerns regarding the delay in alerting the community of the situation, and acknowledged that while the university’s email “[brought] attention to the slow response of the emergency alert system and how it affected responders,” such incidents made her worry about the potential for other services to act similarly during an emergency.
Other students expressed their shock, with Brian Shi, a second-year honours science student, stating that the closeness of the event “opened [their] eyes.” “Usually, these events would happen far from home, but having such things happen so close to me to the point where I was almost at the scene when the stabbing occurred … I had originally thought UW was a much safer place than most,” Shi said.
Community members have also expressed their feelings online, which range from fear to disappointment to outrage. In a tweet responding to the information that the attack happened in a gender issues class, associate professor of English language and literature Aimée Morrison stated that “everything about everything [felt] very unsafe to [her] now.”
Morrison described how the stabbings have affected her mindset on campus, never having had to think about where the exits in the classroom were located or the need to keep a chair beside her to fend off a potential attacker.
“I don’t want to lose the vulnerability and trust that’s necessary to teach and learn with other human beings who I’m trying to get to know,” Morrison said. “Because I’m always looking over my shoulder. And I fear that I’m not going to be able to get that out of my head.”
She also described how despite the attack’s representation of the danger of teaching certain topics, the option to stop teaching or to teach differently is simply not there for her, comparing it to the necessity to breathe despite increasing air pollution. “To stop teaching the material that I teach or the ways that I teach or [to stop doing] trust falls with my students intellectually … is not an option,” she said.
Morrison pushed back against the idea that the stabbings were purely nonsensical. “As soon as you hear [the news], and you get a little bit of the context, you’re like, ‘Oh, I know exactly what happened.’ And that is so depressing. To not be surprised. To be able to make sense of it.”
Morrison also pointed out how “lone wolf” characterizations of the attack are harmful. On one hand, they continue to “stigmatize forms of defense that are already highly stigmatized,” such as subgenres of music or certain video games, as well as neurodivergent people or those with mental illnesses. On the other hand, they ignore any role society has played in creating an environment where such an attack could be thought of and carried out.
Citing the increasingly polarized politics in online spaces, Morrison stated that Canadians are being led to “moral panics about things that really are no danger to anybody,” which do not justify any sort of violent action.
“It allows us to not think about how responsible our political languages are or how responsible our social media platforms and our information silos are for creating conditions in which people think it is reasonable to go into a gender studies classroom and start stabbing people,” she said.
Morrison also discussed how though the attack did happen in a gender issues class and directly affected those in it, it also impacted all members of the arts faculty. “It’s difficult to teach in the humanities without touching on gender,” she said. She also reflected on the implications of the attack having come from a UW student, and what that says about the school’s impact on students.
“We maybe have to rethink about what kinds of pressure we’re putting students under, how much we silo our own students in different disciplines apart from each other, how scared our students are generally about what their futures are going to look like and how that can really lead to isolation and fear. And anger,” she said.
Amir Tabatabaie, a second-year honours psychology student who, at the end of UW’s gathering of solidarity on June 29, expressed the need for better mental health services at the university, shared similar sentiments.
Tabatabaie spoke of his goal to create a club focusing primarily on students’ mental health and providing them with a platform to voice concerns to the administration, as well as promoting a stronger sense of connection and collaboration within the student body.
“Hopefully by having these cross-society events, it can promote more inclusion, and provide [students] with events where they can meet other students from other places,” Tabatabaie said.
Regarding the lasting impact of the attack, Morrison had this to say: “I think it takes something really special away that we were very lucky to have, but that everybody should have — it shouldn’t be luck to go to class without worrying you’re gonna get killed. Feels like not a high bar to reach, right?”