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Photo by Nick Holland/The Watch

HALIFAX (CUP) — Thirteen dentistry students at Dalhousie University who were part of an offensive Facebook group may still be able to attend classes next week, despite being suspended from degree-required clinic work.

Dalhousie president Richard Florizone said in a press release on Jan. 5, hours before a community protest against the treatment of the victims, that the suspension only affects the publicly attended dental clinics. Dentistry classes have been postponed until Jan. 12.

The sanction follows revelations of misogynistic Facebook posts targeting female dentistry students.

The scandal broke out in mid-December, when sexually explicit Facebook posts from the 2015 DDS Gentlemen’s Club Facebook group were made public by the CBC and the Coast.

The posts show male dentistry students voted on which female student to have “hate sex” with. Others joked about getting women unconscious with chloroform or nitrous oxide in order to “bang until stress is relieved.”

Another man defined “penis” as “the tool used to wean and convert lesbians and virgins into useful, productive members of society.” Another member replied, “by productive i’m (sic) assuming you mean it inspires them to become chefs, housekeepers, babysitters, etc.”

Jacob Boon, city editor at the Coast, reported receiving private Facebook messages showing members of the group discussing the media storm. Some suggested apologizing, Boon reported, but not all: “Fuck an apology,” said one.

Four Dalhousie professors submitted a formal complaint on Dec. 21 using the Student Code of Conduct.

Francoise Baylis, a bioethics professor at the university, said the penalization process is transparent, would result in a clear decision of innocent or guilty, and not require the women to publicize their names. The women have so far remained anonymous in media reports.

Instead, Florizone is proceeding with a restorative justice procedure through the sexual harassment policy. That, in part, involved the men and women meeting to “resolve complaints between the parties.” The process would be secret and result in no decision on whether sexual harassment happened at all.
Community members have voiced their disagreement on social media using the hashtag #dalhousiehateswomen.

The partial suspension is part of a second process using an Academic Standards Class Committee consisting of dentistry professors who teach fourth-year students. A question and answer page about the decision on Dal’s website said the committee will assess each student individually to see whether he meets professional requirements. Florizone’s press release said this committee may create a remediation plan, which could recommend academic dismissal.

“There must be significant consequences for those that endorse and enable misogyny on campus,” wrote Florizone.

The news at Dalhousie comes amidst an ongoing University of Ottawa taskforce investigation prompted by two highly publicized incidents last winter: a sexually graphic Facebook chat about student federation president Anne-Marie Roy was posted online, and two members of the Gee-Gees men’s hockey team were charged with the sexual assault of a Lakehead University student.

In the case of the five male students who wrote the Facebook comments, four were student officials who resigned from their posts, though none were formally penalized.

According to taskforce chair Caroline Andrew, the U of O has considered implementing its own student code of conduct like the one at Dalhousie and other schools. Students at schools that have a code of conduct are expected to meet the required standards of personal conduct and can be penalized for behaviour that happens online or outside the campus environment. The Student Federation of the University of Ottawa has strongly opposed a potential code of conduct here at the U of O.

Baylis said the Dalhousie professors want their complaint to be acknowledged and the proper procedure followed. If their complaint is followed under the code of conduct, Baylis said the president could issue an immediate suspension from classes.

“Every single student that comes to Dalhousie should be aware that we have a commitment to a safe and supportive learning environment,” she said. “At this point I’m in a position that I’m at least questioning whether that’s true for the fourth-year dentistry students.”

Baylis said if the victims are sitting next to any of the men in class, they “might be imagining all kinds of things, right? How is that providing me with an appropriate environment in which I can focus on my studies?”

Florizone said in a press conference the decision to suspend the students from clinic work was actually made on Dec. 22, but postponed due to concerns several men were at risk of self-harm. The school wanted to give students “appropriate in-person support” including counselling.

“It’s not really much of a consequence for the Dalhousie dentistry students, but it looks good that Dalhousie is taking some action,” said student Madison Foster, who attended the community protest.

Student Hannah Milley was also there. She’s a board member of South House, the student-funded gender resource centre which has helped organized two protests so far.

“What about our mental health?” she said. “What about the people who had to spend their holidays worrying about if they’ll be forced back into classrooms with the classmates who threatened to rape them?”

On its website, Dalhousie said details will be released soon of a presidential taskforce related to these events.

—With files from Sophie Allen-Barron, Nick Holland, and the Fulcrum