August 14: Sharing our approach to action on safety and culture

To: Graduate students at the University of Waterloo

From: James Rush, Vice-President, Academic and Provost

Date: Monday, August 14, 2023

Subject: Sharing our approach to action on safety and culture

Sharing our approach to action on safety and culture

August 14, 2023

  • The University is grateful for the feedback to date and is committed to keeping you informed of updates related to the June 28 hate-motivated attack at Hagey Hall. 
  • The office of the Vice-President, Academic and Provost has identified key members of the University community to lead the coordination of response efforts. 
  • The focus of next steps includes safety, security, and emergency response process as well as rebuilding trust within the community.  
  • Continued supports are available for those grappling with trauma – reach out to appropriate resources and prioritize your wellbeing, always.  

We are keen to continue the dialogue and welcome your feedback. 

The senior leadership team at the University is committed to keeping you informed of progress being made on the actions we are implementing following the hate-motivated attack at Hagey Hall.  

We are grateful for the feedback we have heard so far and we will continue to listen as we move ahead. Last week, our communications team published more answers to your questions, that were submitted before and after the community forums in July.   

Now that we have consolidated and reflected on feedback, we can share more about what is happening.  

The team in the office of the Vice-President, Academic and Provost is leading the coordination of our overall response with support from members of Executive Council. We have two main portfolios of work: 

  • Jacinda Reitsma, vice-president, administration and finance and her team have led immediate planning and responses regarding changes related to safety, security, infrastructure and operations. Dr. Paul Fieguth, associate vice-president, academic operations, is supporting this work and will oversee the ongoing coordination of the planning and implementation of this work.   
  • Dr. Christine McWebb, associate vice-president, faculty planning and policy, is coordinating planning and implementation of work that is focussed on our community, culture and climate. 

Focussing on safety, security and emergency response processes 

A major priority emerging from the attack is undertaking a review of our general emergency processes and plans. The University is working with a third-party consultant who will independently review our Emergency Response Plan. This review will benchmark our overall emergency preparedness plans against best practises and help us identify possible improvements. 

We have also undertaken significant work reviewing our responses on the day of the attack and over the days that followed. Internal teams are finalizing their reviews, and we will share updates as the lessons learned lead to implementation of additional actions in the coming months.  

First amongst the actions we are taking is a comprehensive assessment of our requirements for notifications and communications during emergencies. Gregory Smith, chief information officer, Nick Manning, associate vice-president, communications, and Kate Windsor, director of safety, are working together to broaden training and access to our systems so that they can be used more effectively in the short term. In the longer term, new approaches will be implemented to ensure the technology is used more effectively and efficiently to reach more people with the right information in an emergency situation. We expect this work to be completed before the end of this calendar year. 

Our early reviews also identified potential risk with information regarding instructor names and the physical location of classes being shared on public-facing websites. The team in the Registrar’s Office is working to remove class locations and instructor names from public websites. The full information will remain available in Quest. 

Strengthening a culture of trust, support, and community 

The healing process in the aftermath of the attack will take time and requires a deep understanding of the challenges many in our community face on an ongoing basis. The healing space sessions, individual and group counselling sessions, and the President’s Forums held in July were the start of an ongoing dialogue with individuals, the 2SLGBTQIA+ community, and other marginalized groups on campus. We understand that work needs to be done to achieve a safe, equitable, and inclusive environment where our students and employees can thrive both personally and professionally, and we are committed to making that happen.  

To start on that process of rebuilding trust, we will be meeting with community groups to better understand gaps, needs, and concerns relating to the experience and safety on campus. In the coming weeks, we will reach out to various groups to continue the dialogue and our learning process. It is our objective to collaboratively find solutions and strategies to promote a safe, equitable and inclusive campus environment for 2SLGBTQIA+ communities. 

Our collective work in this space is critical to progressing toward our vision of Waterloo at 100. Our effort to revisit and enhance our institutional values will also help us address the issues we are identifying. These values will serve as the foundational principles upon which we will build a culture of trust and support to strengthen our community.  

Additionally, we are making investments to advance scholarship and discourse to understand antagonism and intimidation more broadly in academia. Dr. Sheila Ager, dean, faculty of arts, will lead the coordination of a program of interdisciplinary activities spanning the entire University including expert speakers, a panel series, a conference, and other on-campus faculty-led events on the broad subject of antagonistic response to academic research and pedagogy. We expect the speaker series to start with an opportunity to learn from thought leaders in the field on academic freedom, freedom of speech, hate speech and navigating these areas in an academic environment. 

I am also pleased to share that the Office of Equity, Diversity, Inclusion and Anti-racism will soon be recruiting a new position that will focus on initiatives related to gender identity and expression. This position will play an important role in providing supports to queer and trans campus community members, and in enhancing our capacity to address systemic and interpersonal barriers at the University. You can expect to hear more about this from Dr. Christopher Taylor and his team in the coming weeks. 

Committing to ongoing updates and listening 

The work I am sharing in this update is just a snapshot of our wider activities, and you can expect to hear more throughout the Fall term and beyond on progress coming from the reviews, recommendations and actions. The changes we need to make to improve safety and security, and to improve the culture and climate on our campuses, will not happen overnight but we are committed to making changes now and over the longer-term that are consistent with our vision for Waterloo at 100.  

We’re also committed to hearing your feedback and keeping you informed. You can continue to submit your comments by email to or anonymously online

As always, we want to encourage you to make use of the resources and supports we have available to manage the impacts from the traumatic events of June 28. We recognize that trauma comes in waves; for many people, it could be several weeks or months before they can process the reality of what happened that day. If you are experiencing impacts of trauma and you are not well enough to participate in your academics right now, prioritize your health and wellness. AccessAbility Services (AAS) facilitates accommodations for graduate students (e.g., courses, comprehensive exams, defenses) and retroactive accommodations are possible. If you need accommodation support, please reach out to AAS. Additionally, please continue to share our resources with one another and be vigilant for anyone you think may be struggling. 

UW Crest Logo

James W.E. Rush
Vice-President, Academic and Provost
Office of the Provost

2023 communications to graduate students