Three Stabbed in Philosophy Course at Waterloo (multiple updates)

Three people were hospitalized following a knife attack that took place this afternoon in a University of Waterloo philosophy course. The suspect was arrested. No fatalities have been reported.

[original photo by Andrew Yang via UW Imprint, blurred]

The incident took place in “Philosophy 202: Gender Issues”, according to the UW Imprint.

The three victims, which include, according to the UW Imprint, the professor and two students, are in “non-life-threatening condition.”

The course meets in Hagey Hall, which is home to the university’s Department of Philosophy.

The UW Imprint reports that according to one student in the classroom when the attack took place, “a man of about 20-30 years of age entered the class and asked the professor what the class was about. The man closed the door, pulled two knives out of his backpack and proceeded to attack the professor. Students ran to the back of the class to exit out of the one class entrance.”

The University canceled classes in Hagey Hall for the remainder of the day but is expected to resume classes in the building tomorrow.

No charges against the suspect have been announced yet. The Waterloo Regional Police have said that “more information will be provided when available.”


(a) The suspect has been identified as Geovanny Villalba-Aleman, age 24. He is a recent graduate of the university. He was 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 under $5,000, according to the National Post.

(b) The professor of the course, injured during the event, is associate professor of philosophy Katy Fulfer.

(c) “The accused targeted a gender-studies class and investigators believe this was a hate-motivated incident related to gender expression and gender identity,” Waterloo Regional Police wrote in a statement, according to CTV News.

(d) Global News reports on the account of the incident given by James Chow, a student who was in the classroom at the time of the attack:

He was in the second row of seating when he says a man with a backpack came into the room near the end of class and began to talk to the professor.

“He said to the teacher, ‘Oh, is this such and such psychology class?’ And the professor replied, ‘Oh no, you’re probably in the wrong class.’ Then he said, ‘Oh, what class is this?’ The professor replied, ‘This is a gender class’ or ‘philosophy of gender class.’”

Chow says the man asked if he could stay and the professor asked him to leave.

“While the man was listening to a reply, he put down his backpack in front of him at his feet, and he pulled out a knife. It still had like one of those sheaths or covers on it, like a plastic one.”

Upon hearing that it was a gender studies course, Chow says the man’s body language changed, as though he were “happy” to hear that he was in that class.

“The thing that disgusts me the most is this vile, mischievous smile that he had on his face and immediately the professor’s face just turned to like pure fear.”

Chow, who has been taking spring courses to catch up on prerequisites needed for his masters of philosophy, says his classmates began screaming as the suspect started to chase the professor down the middle of the classroom.“Our classroom is like a rectangle, but there’s only one entrance at the front where the man had entered and she ran to the back of the class. At this point, it was just pandemonium. Everyone was screaming.”

In the heat of the moment, Chow says he decided he needed to “at least attack him or injure him” so he says he threw a chair at the suspect as he cornered the professor in the back of the room. The professor was covering her face and screaming, Chow says.

“The next thing I know, I was running outside with a bunch of the other students and I was screaming to them like, ‘Get out of the building now.’”

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Somewhat Skeptical in Saratoga
11 months ago

Will this be a wake-up call for the field as a whole, a cause to introspect and come to the realization that anti-trans rhetoric leads to anti-trans violence?
(Here, regardless of the identity or politics of the professor, the very acknowledgement of gender as a concept worthy of study puts this philosophy course firmly into the camp which anti-trans rhetoric strongly associates with ‘the left’/’trans ideology’/’woke marxism’ and presents as a ‘threat’ to ‘our society’.)

Or will those prominent voices and their supporters merely double down, claiming that ‘trans ideology’ is to blame, that professors with book deals/the full support of their deans/OBEs/prominent media presences are the ones truly under attack here (nevermind the actual attack), and that ‘trans ideology’ *invites* such violence?

Reply to  Somewhat Skeptical in Saratoga
11 months ago

I suppose at this point, it’s a bit much to expect philosophers to be able to condemn a case of frightening violence against one of our own, without making appeal to completely unsubstantiated, if not absurd, causal claims about the power of philosophers’ “rhetoric” – or without using patently obvious false dichotomies in that effort.

But it shouldn’t be.

Reply to  ajkreider
11 months ago

I won’t pretend to know what exactly the commentator is saying. But it’s somewhat uncharitable to interpret the comment as saying “philosophers’ rhetoric causes violence” or “continue with the rhetoric or put an end to the violence.” A more charitable interpretation: such rhetoric may lead to violence, and many philosophers are contributing to the rhetoric. This way, the comment wouldn’t be obviously absurd, but it would be fairly trivial if it weren’t obviously a call to action.

Reply to  ajkreider
11 months ago

Here’s the causal claim made above:
“anti-trans rhetoric leads to anti-trans violence”
Why is that absurd? The claim is not that rhetoric is the only cause of such violence, or is a cause-in-fact rather than proximate cause. Does this rhetoric not lead to violence at all?

I’m so sad for the victims of this attack, and worried for others who may be putting themselves at risk by teaching subjects at the heart of a deranged public furor. Further evidence of derangement: the attempts to identify the attacker as a trans person based on the early photos released, to suggest support for “grooming” and “abuse” is taught in such philosophy of gender courses, and to argue this physical violence is an expected result of silencing anti-trans and anti-woman speech.

The truly absurd causal argument I often hear – including in the wake of this attack – is that anti-trans speech is being silenced, and if so, physical violence will break out where speech cannot. Yet anti-trans views aren’t remotely close to being silenced – one hears them expressed constantly and they have inspired harmful legislation across the US this spring. Many are now dealing with the real-life fallout of having to move, change jobs, or lose health care. We’re going to have a 2024 election in which people push this issue daily because they think it is popular enough to win votes. But even supposing censorship of this view really was the norm, why should that lead to physical attacks? Should we expect the current crackdown on CRT and SEL in schools, or the widespread book bans affecting school libraries, to inspire the “silenced” to commit violence? Even to suggest this seems like a reprehensible attempt to excuse criminal acts, and it’s no different in the case of disputes about gender.

We often share at least some view with strange bedfellows who have other bad beliefs. When the overlap becomes significant, decent people make their boundary lines clear. I don’t see much of that happening among philosophers and it saddens and embarrasses me. When philosophers and philosophy students are violently attacked because people have unhinged views about a philosophy of gender class, It is reasonable to express dismay at all the hostile rhetoric. It is reasonable to wonder why those who express such rhetoric don’t immediately distance themselves from allies who call for violence, much less from an actual violent incident. Being defensive about the claim that anti-trans rhetoric leads to anti-trans violence only makes me wonder what is being defended, and why I should respect people who defend such things.

Shelley Lynn Tremain
11 months ago

I expect trans philosophers themselves will have important things to say in a variety of venues about this horrible event, if not in this venue. I’d like to make my own situated suggestion: rather than dismiss as “mere” rhetoric claims according to which anti-trans vitriol caused this violence, philosophers should draw upon Foucault, Hacking, Anscombe, and others in order to think in terms of the way in which this particular vitriol in philosophy has created the historical conditions of possibility for this violence, has created possibilities for action, made possible new identities and subjectivities under which to act, to act in new ways, for new reasons, and made possible new configurations of older reasons to act.

Here are some questions that philosophers might ask themselves: If, as ajkreider implores, it is “mere” rhetoric to argue that there is a causal connection between what philosophers say and what people do, then why do members of the philosophical community take such consistent pleasure in repeatedly pointing out that the work of philosophers such as David Chalmers, L.A. Paul, Joshua Knobe, Kwame Appiah, Tommie Shelby, Miranda Fricker, and Andy Clark have formative effects for people’s actions and practices beyond philosophy journals and classrooms and indeed beyond academia in general? Why isn’t the same serious consideration given to claims according to which anti-trans arguments contribute to a social milieu in which anti-trans attacks occur; bioethical arguments promote eugenics and create the historical conditions of possibility for eugenic legislation and movements; and the racial contract makes possible white supremacy in philosophy?

Prof L
Prof L
Reply to  Shelley Lynn Tremain
11 months ago

Some other questions—what’s the point of saying that these ideas lead to violence? Enlightenment philosophy made possible the reign of terror. Marx made possible Pol Pot and Stalin and the cultural revolution … I don’t know what the takeaway is supposed to be. Any and all ideas/rhetoric might lead to violence.