Report cites sexism, misogyny in Dalhousie Facebook scandal

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Dalhousie University administrators allowed a culture of "sexism, misogyny, homophobia, and racism," according to an independent report commissioned after several fourth-year dental students made sexual Facebook posts concerning their female classmates.

“The overwhelming public scrutiny and attempts to influence the process compounded the harms to those most affected, including the women who filed the original complaint.”
— "Report on the Task Force on Misogyny, Sexism and Homophobia in Dalhousie University Faculty of Dentistry"

The 103-page report was prepared by a three-member task force, including University of Ottawa law professors Constance Backhouse and Donald McRae and human rights lawyer Nitya Iyer of Vancouver, British Columbia. It was released June 26 as part of the university's restorative justice process.

Dalhousie temporarily suspended 13 fourth-year dental students from clinical activities after several women at the university complained about the posts in the Facebook group, named Class of DDS 2015 Gentlemen. All 13 students eventually graduated from the dental school, located in Halifax, Nova Scotia, according to the report.

Although some said the posts were just "boys will be boys" or "locker-room talk," the task force called the comments "shocking, nauseating, and deeply unsettling" and found that the posts -- and the school's response -- did "real and lasting harm." The investigation sought to "dismantle discrimination and harassment in the future."

Potential for change

The report noted that the college came under heavy fire as traumatized students, worried parents, and an outraged public demanded answers. It also noted that the inquiry resulted in the women being scorned and shunned on campus.

"No institution wants to find itself at the center of the storm, but storms signal the potential for change," the task force wrote. "The overwhelming public scrutiny and attempts to influence the process compounded the harms to those most affected, including the women who filed the original complaint."

The task force found that reports of discrimination were often "swept under the rug" by university officials. One alumnus said that dentistry lived in a "time warp," oblivious to social progress that has rendered some behavior unacceptable.

Several female professors reported sexist treatment from male colleagues, the report stated, and female dental students recounted sexist comments and sexual harassment from their instructors.

A male professor was fired a few years ago, because he had sexual relationships with two female students, the report noted.

The task force's recommendations include the following:

  • Dental faculty should improve the complaint system.
  • Faculty should monitor social and other extracurricular events to prevent sexist, heterosexist, misogynistic, or racist behavior.
  • The university should make clear how codes of conduct apply to social media.
  • The university should strengthen retaliation protections under its sexual harassment policy.
  • Professors and administrators should develop an action plan with defined goals and time lines to implement the recommended changes.

In an open letter, the dental students wrote: "We believe that the education and perspective that we are gaining through our participation in the restorative justice process will allow us to be better healthcare providers, colleagues, and representatives of Dalhousie University."

Dalhousie is not the only college campus that has witnessed such behavior, the report pointed out. Universities exist within a culture that "glorifies sexual violence and exploitation," the report noted, and soon after the story was widely publicized, Facebook posts at other universities quietly disappeared. "Their faculties heaved sighs of relief that the scandal had not erupted in their backyards," the task force wrote.

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