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Image courtesy Nick Holland | The Watch

HALIFAX (CUP) — The president of Dalhousie University  announced Jan. 9 that the 13 dentistry students that were members of a Facebook group in which some posted misogynistic and sexually explicit comments have been barred from attending regular classes.

The group had previously been banned from degree-required clinical work.

“No woman who has been harmed by this will be sitting in a class next to one of the Facebook page members,” president Richard Florizone said at a press conference that afternoon.

Those men have been barred from regular classes, but may take classes remotely or in a separate on-campus classroom.

When questioned, Florizone did not explain the logistics of this decision.

The president also announced the school has commissioned an external task force to assess the dentistry department’s culture and policy.

The revelations from mid-December of misogynistic Facebook posts, sometimes directly naming female dentistry students, shook the Dalhousie community.

Some expressed outrage through the social media hashtag #dalhousiehateswomen, a public statement and an online petition to expel the men, which almost 50,000 people signed.

One man not participating in restorative justice process

The school is undertaking a restorative justice process, one of the informal options in the sexual harassment policy. Fourteen women and 12 men are taking part, Florizone said.

“I understand the 13th elected not to take part,” he said, refusing to explain further.

All men involved will be assessed individually by an internal committee of dentistry professors called the Academic Standard Class Committee (ASCC). This is meant, according the Dalhousie website, to determine whether the students meet professional standards.

At the press conference, Florizone confirmed the Royal College of Dental Surgeons of Ontario had asked for the names of the 13 to be released, which Florizone refused, citing privacy reasons. Several other provincial organizations have joined the call by speaking with media outlets.

At the press conference, Florizone said he did not know how many of the 14 women in the restorative justice process had been named on the Facebook page.

Four dentistry students wrote a letter three days earlier to say they disapproved of the process and felt pressured into participating. Florizone released a statement saying the school is dedicated to just process. He echoed that in this latest development.

“We care about everyone who has been harmed in this, even if they haven’t chosen to take part,” said Florizone. “What we’re hoping is that some of the other measures we’ve announced today, and this week—the suspension, the work of the ASCC, the broader task force—starts to meet some of their needs just as well.”

Faculty complaint yet to be addressed

The school has yet to respond to a formal complaint filed Dec. 21 by four faculty members: Francoise Baylis, Jocelyn Downie, Brian Noble and Jacqueline Warwick.

The group said it wants a formal investigation through the Student Code of Conduct as the women impacted can remain anonymous and the findings—including a clear decision on guilt—will be made public. Florizone said the school is “working hard” on responding and will make another announcement. “We are still waiting,” the group said in a statement Jan. 9.

The faculty group said it worries about the lack of a formal investigation to identify those involved, beyond simply saying 13 students were members. It also said nothing has been done to protect the reputations of male students not involved but about to graduate.

“What steps will the university take to ensure that all men who were involved in the Facebook group are identified and held accountable through various institutional processes?”

The faculty group, in the statement, said it supports the external investigation in the form of a presidential task force and headed by University of Ottawa professor Constance Backhouse. It wants a broader review, as well. “The president has clearly listened and responded, at least in part.”

University commissions external task force

Backhouse will lead the Task Force on Misogyny, Sexism and Homophobia in Dalhousie University Faculty of Dentistry, a group of herself and two other members, which she will choose with the president. Dalhousie chose Backhouse because of her extensive background working on gender equality, according to the release.

The investigation will review the dentistry school only, by considering documents belonging to the university, interviews with people involved and submissions from dentistry students and faculty,  according to the terms of reference.

Goals include answering questions such as when the Facebook group was created and whether others have ever existed, what policies exist regarding misogyny, sexism and homophobia and what training students and faculty receive. Missing from the list is analysis of the individuals’ involvement.

The task force is scheduled to wrap up June 30, 2015 with two reports on policy change recommendations for each the dentistry school and the broader university. Florizone said results will be made public.

—With files from Sophie Allen-Barron