Over the past month there has been a flurry of protest, concern, and outrage regarding misogynistic comments made on a Facebook group by male fourth-year Dalhousie dentistry students. The Facebook group, known as “Class of DDS Gentlemen”, talked about women they wanted to have “hate sex” with and joked about using chloroform on women, while another post showed a picture of a women in a bikini commenting “bang until stress relieved or unconscious”. The university was made aware of the posts on December 8 and the story was revealed to the public on December 15. Since then, there has been an outcry from both the Dalhousie student body and the public about the allegations and the repercussions for the students.
The initial punishment deemed fit by Dalhousie was a restorative justice program. This is defined as a system of criminal justice that focuses on the rehabilitation of offenders through reconciliation with the victims and the community to work out their difference. When this decision was made, it was followed by outrage from within the student body and the wider community at large; there were protests by Dalhousie students and anger expressed via social media demanding a harsher punishment.
Third-year Dalhousie University commerce student Madeline Martin says, “I’m really ashamed that this has happened at my school. I believe that being in an educational institution is a privilege and if you cannot treat your fellow students and staff with respect, equality, and kindness, then there should not be a place for you at Dalhousie. I would like to see the members of the Facebook group expelled but if they’re not, their names released. I don’t want them anywhere near my teeth.”
The hashtag #dalhousiehateswomen was trending as students voiced their anger that the administration of their university clearly had no real concern for female students if they were going to treat these hate crimes so casually. “Forget the mouthwash; remove the rot, expel now,” was another common sign students used when protesting their university’s decision, and rightfully so. When an individual is found guilty of rape, do we have them sit down with the women they sexually assaulted to work out their differences and talk? Of course not—we throw the rapist in jail for life and assume the victim never wants to lay eyes on the attacker again. But when students in the dentistry faculty joke about using their position of authority to “put out” women to sexually abuse them, we just sit them down to have a good talk? These type of offences need to be taken more seriously, especially when these men will graduate with a position of authority where their patients are vulnerable and under their control and guidance.
For this reason, students have demanded expulsion, and they aren’t alone. The licensing agency for Ontario has asked Dalhousie University for the identities of the 13 students involved in the comments. So far, Dalhousie has not released the students’ names.
Irwin Fefergrad, registrar of Royal College of Dental Surgeons of Ontario, comments that due to this lack of transparency, students from this graduating class will have to prove they are not one of the 13 offenders. Fefergrad explains that universities can grant degrees in dentistry, but they cannot issue the licences that make it legal to practise. He stresses there is zero tolerance in the healthcare system for the type of behaviour the students displayed.
This type of pro-rape culture among university campuses is not as rare and shocking as one might suppose. Just last year, pro-rape frosh chants were heard at both UBC and Saint Mary’s.
Louis Birta, a professor emeritus in the school of electrical engineering and computer science at the University of Ottawa, says, “It’s hard to believe that these supposedly ‘well-educated’ individuals would be so far out of sync with prevailing attitudes—what they reflected is the kind of attitude that might have been simply frowned upon 50 years ago, but in 2015 it is totally unacceptable.”
This story is unfolding with new developments every day. As of last Monday, a seemingly more aggressive approach has been taken to reprehend the 13 students involved. The men have been suspended from their clinical work and potentially will not return to classes starting January 12. The reason given by the administration for the delay in suspension was that they wanted the students to be back on campus and have full access to support as some of the accused were said to be at risk of self-harm.
“These are people you look up to in the dentistry world, and with doctor-patient interaction, patients look to them with valuable knowledge and as someone to help them. It was just very disappointing,” said aspiring dentist and current Dalhousie student Meghan McAlary. “But I don’t think people should look down on Dalhousie’s dental school. These were the actions of individuals. I’m sure it could have happened to any dental school. It was poor choice by individuals. But you would think they would know better once they step into a professional world.”
As a dentist, you take responsibility for your patients, have control over their well-being, and in some cases perform anaesthesia, making patients vulnerable. Men with this type of mentality are not suitable for the profession and should certainly not graduate. Their names should be released for public safety, and it can be up to the discretion of other dentistry schools and licencing bodies to accept these men to their faculty or the profession. For now, the only thing these men should be cleaning out is their desk, because Dalhousie should not have a place for students with this code of conduct.
When asked, UTM staff declined to comment because the events had taken place at another university.