Thirteen students from the Dalhousie University's dental school in Halifax, Nova Scotia have been suspended for what their dean calls "deeply offensive" Facebook posts in a group called "Class of DDS 2015 Gentlemen." The students made jokes about chloroforming and raping female classmates and polled each other on which of the women they would "hate fuck."
The Facebook page, which was discovered and quickly deleted in mid-December, caused an uproar, with four Dalhousie professors submitting a formal complaint demanding that every student who participated in it be suspended. The professors gave their complaint to the media on January 4, saying that the school hadn't acknowledged or addressed it.
Very quickly, the university released a statement this morning announcing the students would be suspended from clinical practice activities. They claim the decision was made December 22 but only publicized today. According to the Twitter page for the school's Office of Human Rights, Equity & Harassment, it's possible the offending students will also be expelled.
The school has devoted an entire sub-section of its website to the controversy, with President Richard Florizone calling the posts "offensive, degrading to women and completely unacceptable." He adds that the school will begin a "restorative justice process" this week meant to repair the harm caused by the posts:
This Faculty-led review by Dentistry's Academic Standards Class Committee (ASCC) will commence this week. The restorative justice process, along with other options being considered, is intended to repair the harm caused by this offensive behaviour. Alongside this, the ASCC will assess the situation of each student involved and ensure any individuals recommended for graduation will have complied with the professionalism requirements of their academic program. No student will be permitted to graduate unless they have done so.
As we have made clear, there must be significant consequences for those that endorse and enable misogyny on campus, and we must determine those consequences through a just process — one consistent with the law and University policy, and which supports the rights of everyone involved. Both the restorative justice process and the consideration of the matter by the ASCC reflect these principles.
But the Facebook page appears to be just one piece of a larger issue at Dalhousie. Jennifer Nowoselski, the vice-president of the student union told CBC that female students complained to her this past summer about "sexual harassment and sexist comments and preferential treatment of male students, especially in clinical settings." But when the students learned they couldn't make complaints anonymously, she added, they decided not to make a formal complaint.
"They were really worried about any repercussions in the faculty based on their experiences," Nowoselski told CBC. "They asked us not to pursue it any further."
It's unclear what the school is going to do about the complaints made to the student union and CBC about sexism and preferential treatment by Dalhousie professors; the webpage is almost entirely devoted to the Facebook posts. In an FAQ on the site, there is this nugget:
10. Doesn't this incident demonstrate the need to address broader issues of misogyny and sexism at Dalhousie? Beyond the restorative justice process what other meaningful actions is the university taking to address these systemic issues?
Absolutely. We recognize that what has happened is not isolated to one Faculty or just to Dalhousie University. It is a complex societal issue in which we must fully engage and play a leadership role. We have a responsibility to create the space for this conversation to occur, and we take that responsibility seriously. The journey towards a safer, more respectful culture at Dalhousie and beyond will be neither short nor simple, but this work is underway and we will have more to say in the days to come.
"Journeys" towards "safer, more respectful cultures" sound like long, vague, arduous things, with no specific goals in mind and no one to hold specifically accountable. And punishing these specific students with suspension or expulsion means the whole debate will turn into an argument about whether their free speech rights are being violated. Oh look, that's started happening already, even before the suspensions were announced.
While we're talking about restorative justice, how about this suggestion from Jezebel managing editor Erin Gloria Ryan (who sees a lot of stupid bullshit on the Internet): "Make them read the posts publicly to their assembled classmates. In a room. Live." See how funny it is then.
Image via Tom Flemming/Flickr