Following the recent attack on a gender issues class in Hagey Hall (HH), students and faculty were invited by UW administration to gather on June 29 in the Arts Quad to “stand in solidarity against gender-based violence and all other forms of hatred and bigotry,” as stated in an email from the Registrar’s Office. The event included speeches by UW president and vice-chancellor Vivek Goel, dean of arts Sheila Ager, and WUSA president Rory Norris. The event concluded with a traditional Indigenous smudging ceremony led by Elder Myeengun Henry of the Anishinaabeg tribe, resident Indigenous Knowledge Keeper at UW.
Imprint had the opportunity to speak with Goel a week after the HH attack took place and inquire about students’ concerns in the aftermath of the event.
With respect to UW’s decision to continue operations normally for the remainder of the day following the incident, Goel stated that there was no threat that justified closing the campus, as within an hour of the incident WRPS had secured the site, apprehended the attacker, and determined the attacker had acted alone. Goel also emphasized the need for the university to take a stand following the attack, to show that the university “[would] not be intimidated” by threats to academic freedom.
“If we choose to stop as a result of events such as this, then those people that want to silence us, that want to keep us from teaching certain subjects — which is exactly what this attack was about — win… So I think the most important response, from my perspective, to this threat to academic freedom is for us to continue with our operations,” Goel said.
In response to students’ calls for increased security, Goel emphasized the need for caution if and when these added measures are implemented so as to not compromise the core values and academic mission of UW as an institution. “If we had cameras, for example, in classrooms, what [might] the impact of that be on teaching and people’s willingness to express their own views?” Goel said. “I’m not saying that we shouldn’t be doing these things, [but] we need to have a discussion about what the trade-offs are, particularly in light of [the fact that] a fundamental characteristic of our institutions is [to] be open, be inclusive, having everyone able to express their views, and the more we try to secure ourselves, the more like a fortress we will become and less like that ideal of a university.”
When asked about how exactly the student body is going to be consulted regarding the implementation of additional security measures on campus, Goel stated that an open town hall event will take place some time in the coming weeks, where students will have the opportunity to get their initial input in. The date for the town hall, July 17, was announced later that same week in an email from the Registrar’s Office. Goel also stated that both WUSA and GSA will play a role in providing a platform for students to voice their concerns as recommendations are implemented.
In their initial statement regarding the attacks, WUSA pledged to “continue to advocate for a supportive, civil society that respects and upholds diversity, thriving equity initiatives and human rights for all.” WUSA also committed itself to a number of short-term and long-term actions, including but not limited to communicating student concerns to university officials, working towards creating more safe spaces on campus, and ensuring that advocacy work prioritizes student safety and inclusion.
In an update to the statement a week later, WUSA confirmed they are working on gathering student feedback and setting up meetings with relevant university authorities with the goal to “connect with the university and have important discussions on efficient emergency response systems, student safety, and welfare both on the Senate level and internally through [UW].”
Regarding students’ perceived inaction by UW administrators following last year’s CMH and the recent HH stabbing incidents, Goel said, “I think it’s important that students look at all the work that has been done… I know students who [have] only just arrived may not see the changes that have been happening, but I think they should really be assured that there is a considerable amount of attention and focus on these issues of concern.”
Goel referenced the Committee on Student Mental Health (CoSMH) established in 2018, as well as the Waterloo Student Experience & Engagement (WatSEE) framework that arose from the 2019 External Reviewers’ Report on UW student experience, as examples of long-term strategies implemented by UW administrators to improve student mental health on campus.
With two events of differing tones taking place on campus after the attack, Goel expressed his belief that both had their place and emphasized that the goal of the Arts Quad gathering was not to exclude anyone, but rather to respond to requests UW administrators were receiving to demonstrate their support following the attack. “I know many of those individuals [at the GroundUp event] were at our event and then moved and had their event outside of Hagey Hall. So we welcome events on our campus, and … everyone has the right to peaceful protest.”