- JACOB BOON
- Over 200 protesters marched to Dalhousie’s Henry Hicks building on December 19 wanting the dentistry students responsible for hateful, sexist Facebook posts expelled.
Four Dalhousie faculty members have come forward to file a formal complaint against the members of the "Class of DDS 2015" Facebook group. An email released just before noon from DalhousieStatement@gmail.com states the complaint has been made under the university's code of student conduct, and not their sexual harassment policy.
The complaint asks that confidentiality be protected for any specific individuals named or depicted on the misogynistic Facebook page that has dominated local media coverage for the last week. It also states emphatically that none of those individuals should be compelled or pressured to appear as witnesses.
Last week, Dalhousie University moved swiftly against the now infamous Facebook group of fourth-year dentistry students who had been posting sexist, sometimes violent comments about female classmates. Dal president Richard Florizone promised an informal restorative justice process to clean up the mess instead of formally investigating any breaches of conduct. In the absence of clear information, the public and many in the Dal community have been left to speculate about what exactly has been happening inside the dentistry school—until now.
Two weeks ago, the Class of DDS 2015 Gentlemen were angry. Someone had been leaking their comments to the girls, and now Dalhousie’s administration was involved.
“We should hang the leak from his balls,” one man wrote. “If he has balls.”
They made a poll to weigh their options. “Do nothing” beat out “Hold off unless the shit hits the fan” and “Issue statement of some sort.” Their fun had been ruined.
“I also want to know I can say whoever I want to HATEFUCK and know some guy isn’t going to go running and tell the girls.”
[NOTE: All of these redacted Facebook posts are coloured so readers can keep track of who’s commenting. Any female classmate names are coloured grey, while Dalhousie faculty names are brown.]
The Class of DDS2015 Gentlemen group dates back to 2011, the fall of their first year. Its membership has fluctuated over the years. In September of 2013, one member proposed joining forces with male students from the year above them.
“For now it will be good for the lolz,” he wrote, “and in the future it may be good for us bros to stick together.”
However it began, a consistent presence of misogynistic, often violent imagery has defined the group’s comments. Some of them have been mentioned online already. There are references to drugging women. Jokes about getting a woman unconscious before sex. How the men’s penises were tools “used to wean and convert lesbians and virgins.” There’s plenty more that hasn’t been reported. Their classmates were mentioned and pictured often. Back in April, one group member jokingly demanded a “written fuckign [sic] apology for this sexiest [sic] email” about a female-only bursary program. A lengthy post in March, 2013 defines the group’s philosophy. The post criticizes women in their program who “cry” and those who the author claims flirt with instructors (“Damn honey traps!”).
“The gentlemen’s club is not necessarily for men, but it’s just for badasses,” the group member wrote. “If that just so happens to be men, then so be it.”
Perhaps most troubling, three male Dalhousie dentistry faculty and staff members are praised by the group for their “gentlemanly” behaviour. One current instructor is lauded for being “under more heat for sexual harassment than anyone since” a previous faculty member. “What a boss.”
Dalhousie director of communication Brian Leadbetter says that over the past nine months he’s held his job he isn’t aware of any sexual harassment complaints or investigations in the dentistry faculty. He also said Dalhousie wasn’t aware of the Facebook group’s comments about faculty members.
“I’m not aware of any specifics regarding an investigation,” he says. “I do know that it did come to our attention, I believe it was the end of last week, with respect to the video that was shared in the class.”
That’s the CBC story about a dentistry professor who showed a video of bikini-clad women to his class this past summer as a way to “wake up” the male students. The CBC quotes a female student who says the professor later apologized over email.
Early in December, one member of the "gentlemen" Facebook group created polls so the group could vote which of their classmates they most wanted to “hate fuck,” and which were best for “sport fucking.” They were posted on Saturday, December 6—the 25th anniversary of the Montreal Massacre where 14 female École Polytechnique students were murdered.
According to Dalhousie, they first became aware of the problem on Monday, December 8. Faculty were told a formal code of conduct complaint had been lodged. A week later, university president Richard Florizone told the media Dalhousie hadn’t received any formal complaints yet.
By December 12, the shit hits the fan. The men still a part of the group knew they had been found out. In private messages, some expressed remorse and suggested signing a letter of apology.
“There are girls in our class that are going to seriously have their feelings hurt if this all goes down,” one wrote. “I fear the weight of all of the Dental School’s past transgressions may lay upon the heads of this group.”
Others showed less contrition.
“Boys what are they going to do? honestly. Kick every guy out of 4th year? Tell us you guys are mean for saying those things? I think the bigger issue is who the fuck is showing the girls.”
Once it became clear the faculty knew and matters were escalating, the group panicked.
“Sending out an apology is a great idea right now,” one wrote. “This shit is apparently very serious and other faculty members know. Can’t chat now. Just a heads up. Sounds very serious. Especially given the climate across the country given this sort of stuff.”
“Fuck an apology,” one man replied. “All of this is fuckin ridiculous.”
What happened next, you’ve probably heard. The men shut down the group, and shortly thereafter some of their comments are published by the CBC. The three remaining exams for the entire class are cancelled until January. On Tuesday of last week, the administration calls an emergency meeting of the dental school’s graduating class. Students are invited to attend, voluntarily and confidentially, to address matters in the media.
Dalhousie calls a press conference late on Wednesday, where Richard Florizone and restorative justice expert/school of law professor Jennifer Llewellyn address the media and answer a few questions. At one point, Florizone chokes up at the mic. The president states some of the women named in the Facebook posts had met with Dalhousie prior to adopting this restorative justice approach. But not all of them.
Janet Bryson, spokesperson for Dalhousie, says she has “no idea” whether the university informed all the women mentioned in the Facebook group what was said about them. The answer is, they didn’t. The Coast has learned at least one woman attended the emergency meeting last Tuesday who had no knowledge at the time she had been talked about in the Facebook group.
Restorative justice isn’t inherently flawed, and Dalhousie seems committed to addressing larger, systemic issues. But the quick effort to enact their informal restorative process raises serious questions about its chances for success. If restorative justice proceeds, there could be other women involved who have no idea the men sitting across the table wrote hateful comments specifically about them. The community and public won’t know if it succeeds, as the process will remain entirely confidential unless a consensus is reached by all participants—men included.
The parameters and potential outcomes of the restorative justice approach are all being vaguely defined by Dalhousie. Part of that, the university claims, is to protect the privacy of everyone involved. It’s been reported that disciplinary outcomes could still be on the table, as if the restorative justice process had the authority to act on a verdict. But that’s not exactly true. If the men ever do face suspension or expulsion it will still need to happen formally, through an investigation and a judgment by Dal’s senate disciplinary committee. Under the informal restorative justice approach there is no authority to discipline anyone. Keep in mind, under the university’s own code of student conduct no formal complaint needs to be filed by a student (as has been proven today) for Dalhousie to investigate a breach of ethics.
“That’s rare,” says Janet Bryson. “They’re usually complainant-driven processes.”
Beyond Dalhousie, there’s been concern in the public that these men will be treating patients at the dentistry school’s University Avenue clinic. Dentistry students aren’t governed by Nova Scotia’s dental board—Dal takes on that responsibility. Breaches of the university’s sexual harassment policy, code of student conduct and particularly their faculty of dentistry student code of professional conduct are for Dalhousie to investigate. That they haven’t yet is one reason why 145 past and present Dalhousie faculty members and alumni have signed a petition calling for an independent committee of inquiry in order to “earn back the public trust.”
Janet Bryson says she has “no idea” whether the men will be back treating patients next month, but it seems likely. Florizone has already told the media he does not feel the men are a threat to the public. According to the dental school’s clinic policy and procedures manual, access to the clinic can be suspended for violations as minor as chewing gum. “It is a privilege not a right for students to treat patients in this Clinic.” [Dalhousie’s emphasis].
After Florizone’s press conference last week, CBC reported that one of the women mentioned in the sexist posts objects to the informal resolution. Another woman contacted The Coast before this article was published. She is one of the women featured in derogatory posts on the group Facebook page. She wanted to emphasize that Dalhousie did not seek or receive her consent before electing to an informal restorative justice process, and she’s not comfortable proceeding with that process as it has been explained. As of right now, she’s not coming forward publicly or with a formal complaint because she’s concerned it will affect her academic standing and career.
Including her, we know of at least four women in Dalhousie’s graduating dentistry class who object to restorative justice. Yet again and again, the university has claimed its response has been focused on those most directly harmed.
“I think when people look at this sort of process, they’ll wonder how will that be,” says Janet Bryson, “but there could be things that flow out of the process that very much would show that.
“That’s why the university respected the wishes of these women in following this process.”
There are 19 men and 19 women in the core fourth-year dentistry class at Dal. Thirteen of those men were members of the Facebook group up until it was shut down last week. Although there are clear references to others jumping ship or being kicked off earlier. At least seven of their female classmates were the subject of derogatory remarks. Nine other students—seven men and two women—who are part of the foreign-trained QP class seemingly weren’t involved at all.
We plan to protect the identity of the women who have contacted us as long as they wish. The university is refusing to release the names of the men involved in the Facebook group, as is the media for the time being. It’s likely there are men in Dalhousie’s fourth year dentistry program who had no part in the hateful Facebook group. Nevertheless, they’re now tarnished with the actions of their classmates. Names shouldn’t have to be made public for justice to be restored. Ideally, it’s the university who holds those responsible accountable.
Late Friday, Richard Florizone sent a mass email to the Dalhousie community about this “difficult, troubling week.” He expressed his thanks to those who have written and called with their thoughts. Once again, he stressed how disappointed and disgusted everyone at Dalhousie is with these “entirely unacceptable Facebook comments.”
“This is a watershed moment for Dalhousie, and a sign of how far we still have to go,” the president wrote. “As difficult as this week has been for everyone, the challenge it presents is to build a stronger, more inclusive, more respectful Dalhousie. I believe, together, we can meet that challenge.”
Classes at Dalhousie dentistry start back up on Monday, January 5.
- JACOB BOON