A stabbing that wounded three people in a gender-studies class at Ontario’s University of Waterloo was motivated by hate, investigators say, shaking the community and heightening concerns that education is being targeted by ideological extremists.

On Wednesday, a man entered a classroom in Hagey Hall on the Waterloo campus and stabbed a professor and two students.

The class in progress was Philosophy 202, described in the course calendar as an undergraduate course on gender issues. About 40 students were present at the time.

Geovanny Villalba-Aleman, a 24-year-old former Waterloo student, appeared in court Thursday charged with three counts of aggravated assault, four counts of assault with a weapon, two counts of possession of a weapon for a dangerous purpose, and mischief.

Waterloo Regional Police Chief Mark Crowell said investigators believe this was a hate-motivated incident related to gender expression and gender identity. That belief is founded in part on an exchange the attacker had with the professor upon entering the class, when he’s alleged to have asked about the subject being taught, Chief Crowell said at a news conference.

The assailant, having ascertained that it was a course on gender issues, is alleged to have attacked the professor with two large knives, Chief Crowell said. Two students were also hurt and a third escaped without injury.

“We believe this was a targeted, specific attack related to gender expression and gender identity,” Chief Crowell said.

The injured professor was identified as 38-year-old Katy Fulfer, who is affiliated with the university’s gender and social-justice program.

The other victims are described as a 20-year-old female student and a 19-year-old male student, both from Waterloo. All three victims were taken to hospital and treated for injuries said to be serious but not life-threatening. Prof. Fulfer and the female student were transported to hospitals outside the Waterloo region, according to police.

Chief Crowell commended students who tried to intervene during the attack. Some threw things at the assailant, he said. Many fled the scene and called 911. Police were nearby and arrived within three minutes of the first 911 call, Chief Crowell said.

The attacker tried to blend in among the fleeing students but was quickly identified and arrested, according to police.

In a written message to the campus community, Waterloo provost James Rush acknowledged that the university’s emergency alert system did not issue a warning as quickly as expected. The system had been tested earlier in the day, and some faculty expressed surprise that they didn’t receive rapid notices warning them of the danger.

Waterloo convocation documents show that Mr. Villalba-Aleman graduated with a Bachelor of Science honours degree this spring. A LinkedIn profile under that name indicates that the individual studied physics. The profile also indicates that the person had recently worked at a Tim Hortons. Other social-media profiles suggest a man with that name was originally from Ecuador and had studied in Canada for several years.

About 200 staff, faculty and students attended a solidarity gathering on the Waterloo campus Thursday afternoon.

Waterloo president Vivek Goel said the university would not be deterred and would remain a welcoming place committed to diversity. Dr. Goel said Pride flags, normally in place for the month of June, would remain up as a symbol of the university’s commitment to inclusion.

“There are those who would like to intimidate us. They want us to be afraid,” Dr. Goel said.

“Dr. Katy Fulfer and two students in her gender-studies class were attacked because they were exploring issues related to gender in our society,” Dr. Goel said.

“We find ourselves in a world that is increasingly polarized, a world that is grappling with the acceptance of different gender expressions and identities. So what we all do now, in response to an attack motivated by gender ideology, will resonate globally.”

Aimée Morrison, an associate professor of English at the university, said she cried at the ceremony. She said the attack felt like “a profound violation.”

“The university classroom and the university campus is a kind of magic circle,” she said. “That spell of trust and shared goal is broken when we know that someone can come into this building and be so angry about what we are trying to learn that they try to kill us.”

She said the attack hit very close to home.

“It gives me more sadness than pause,” she said. “But am I a little bit more afraid? Am I probably going to be checking where the doors are, in a way that I have never done in 19 years? Probably.”

Prof. Morrison stressed that this incident is part of a broader context of growing hate.

“Misogyny, homophobia and transphobia are rampant and normalized in our culture right now, and sometimes it comes out as violence,” she said.

Jackson Yan, a 22-year-old student, was in Hagey Hall when the attack happened. He and other students were in a study room when he received a text message from a friend warning him that there was an attacker in the building.

Mr. Yan and the others barricaded themselves in the study room, putting up chairs to block the doors.

After about 10 minutes, one of them received a phone call from someone outside the building letting them know the attacker had been apprehended. As they were heading to the stairs to get out of the building, Mr. Yan saw a suspect in handcuffs walking with police.

Mr. Yan said he did not feel apprehensive about going back to classes.

“It was a bit alarming at first, but ultimately they successfully apprehended the person and I feel like today feels like any other,” he said.

The Globe and Mail, June 27, 2023