Since I arrived on campus in 2020, my university has always felt safe. Especially living in Canada, I understand how lucky I am to have virtually no fear of violence, unlike many students in the US — and I’ve only ever seen the community at the University of Waterloo as loving and accepting.
That harmonious feeling came to an end last week.
It started when my roommate texted our group chat in a panic. She was currently in her last day of classes before a massive midterm that would occur over the Canada Day long weekend. My stomach dropped when I read her message: There was a triple stabbing in the main arts building at our university. And she was in the same building where it happened, in a classroom just a few doors down.
Detailing her experience to us later, my roommate articulated how confused she was the whole time. To my surprise, she had no idea what was going on during the event, and the only communication she received from the university in the hour afterward was a vague, nondescript email, simply “advising” students to lock their classroom doors. Because of this lack of urgency, paired with the fact that there were no locks on her classroom doors, she and her classmates agreed it was probably nothing.
Just under an hour later, the police came and escorted them out of the classroom. It was only then, seeing other students crying outside, that my roommate and her peers finally realized that something was truly wrong. “I ended up finding out what had happened through another friend, a Discord group chat, and Reddit,” she tells Her Campus. “All before hearing more from the university.”
It was several days later that I learned that the class in session during this incident was titled “gender philosophy.” That meant one thing: This was a clear act of hate against women and the LGBTQ+ community, as declared by the Waterloo police.
Hate crimes at Canadian universities are often a hidden issue — so as relieved as I was that nobody suffered any fatal injuries, the emotion that prevailed for many was disbelief. In particular, my roommate appeared stunned for the next day or so, unable to completely process what happened. And like many others, she was disappointed with the school’s response, presenting opportunities for universities around the world to improve.
At the very least, universities require better communication during and after these incidents.
In addition to poor online communication with students, in-person instructions were lacking, too. “Some people were told to stay put in rooms by police, but no one came back for them so they eventually left after getting the okay from the university,” my roommate recalls.
Afterward, the University of Waterloo posted a quick, now-deleted Notes-app explanation on Instagram, and has allegedly removed several comments from students confronting the school. There is now a more professional statement on their Instagram, but as one comment suggests, “Reddit has more information than this ‘update.’”
Regardless of its effect on the university’s reputation, students deserve to know the entire truth in a timely manner. And we also deserve to have a voice.
Of course, we can’t change the past — but as of now, this issue presents an opportunity for schools all over the world to improve their processes and effectively prioritize students’ safety. This means quickly providing specific, comprehensive, valid updates, and relaying these messages to all students (because anyone could’ve been studying in this building). Nobody should need to find out through a Discord server — the faster students know, the more action can be taken to ensure safety.
What’s more, I urge universities to continue detailing the event afterward with more than just one or two statements. This means additional social media posts, but also longer-form pieces and videos spotlighting students. Regardless of its effect on the university’s reputation, students deserve to know the entire truth in a timely manner. And we also deserve to have a voice.
Universities Need resources for students to air their concerns — mental health should be the #1 priority.
Silence is the last thing a community needs in the time following a traumatic event. Healing is often best done through discussion, as opposed to avoidance — so universities can also benefit by ensuring students and faculty have the time and resources to properly recover from any negativity they may be feeling.
However, even if she had proper resources, my roommate couldn’t properly grieve this situation because she had a midterm just a couple of days after the incident occurred. So, particularly in heavy-workload schools, it’s more than okay to shift schedules around to allow people to take some time off. This way, the school community can destress, spend quality time with their loved ones, and heal in their own way. And in this vein, regularly scheduled lessons are no longer of the same importance — instead, professors should start open conversations about these incidents in classes, further lending students a voice.
These tragedies serve as a reminder of how necessary it is to support underrepresented groups, and how far we still have to go before people are accepted for their identities. And students want to give their support — they just don’t know how.
But that’s not it. Even in regular times, I’ve always firmly believed universities should step up their access to therapy — especially as our generation’s mental health continues to decline. Across the board, students are dissatisfied with their university’s mental health resources — so when we see our schools simply copy and paste their health center’s contact information into a blog post or Instagram story, most of us just roll our eyes. Acts of violence reinforce this already-dire need — we need more energy and effort from universities if we want to change how students view their school’s mental health resources.
It’s time to support the larger issue at hand and provide education.
This particular event was motivated by misogyny and anti-LGBTQ+ ideals. So, in similar incidents, universities should do their part by continuing to discuss these topics and promoting equality in any way they can. This not only means posting about it, but also making donations to relevant organizations. The University of Waterloo held a memorial event shortly afterward, but it’d also be an inspiring idea to organize a march or walkout in support of these causes. Anything works, but just remember: Silence is the least effective path to take.
These tragedies serve as a reminder of how necessary it is to support underrepresented groups, and how far we still have to go before people are accepted for their identities. And students want to give their support — they just don’t know how. So, now is the time for universities to become the leaders they assure us they are in their offer letters and website descriptions. I still love my school, and I’m proud to go there — but there’s still lots of work to do.
To anyone impacted by this incident and others like it: I’m genuinely, completely sorry. I know you’re sad, stunned, and frustrated beyond words — but let’s keep fighting, talking, and proposing solutions. More than anything, we need to use our voices. That’s the best way we can leave our universities better than the way we found them.