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Dalhousie Dentistry Students Suspended Over Facebook Page

01/05/2015 08:53 EST | Updated 03/07/2015 05:59 EST
HALIFAX - Dalhousie University suspended 13 dentistry students from clinical duties over misogynistic comments allegedly posted on a social media site, saying it wants to ensure the safety of patients and classmates.

University president Richard Florizone and the dean of dentistry announced that the fourth-year students will not be able to practise at a community clinic while a committee reviews the matter.

Florizone added that this latest response to the deepening crisis could affect the students' ability to graduate if the suspension hasn't been lifted and they haven't fulfilled academic requirements.

"The behaviour has called into question their professionalism ... so they are suspended from clinical activity until this academic committee removes that suspension," Florizone said in the Halifax university's main academic building.

The review by the academic standards class committee will also determine if the men will be allowed to return to classes next week and, if so, whether they will be kept separate from the rest of the 44 students in fourth year.

Thomas Boran, dean of the dentistry school, said the allegations have "rocked the administration" and that he had no knowledge of the comments until a media report exposed the Facebook page where they were posted.

"We had no idea that it existed," he said. "The faculty of dentistry has been deeply affected by this incident. Comments expressed on the Facebook postings were deeply offensive."

According to the CBC, members of the Class of DDS Gentlemen page on Facebook voted on which woman they'd like to have "hate" sex with and joked about using chloroform on women.

In another post, a woman is shown in a bikini with a caption that says, "Bang until stress is relieved or unconscious (girl)."

The Facebook page has since been taken down.

The posts and the university's initial response prompted rallies, calls for the men's expulsion and a demand by some faculty members for an independent inquiry into how the school handled the incident.

Hundreds of protesters filled a square outside the president's office building Monday, where they demanded the students be expelled and that more be done to address sexism on campus.

"I think it's one step that's overdue," said Jude Ashburn of the South House Sexual and Gender Resource Centre at Dalhousie. "They still need to be expelled and there needs to be a widespread plan of attack from Dalhousie to address institutionalized misogyny."

Kortney Foley, a student who was at the protest, agreed.

"These students need to be expelled because people should feel safe when they go to get any medical work done," she said. "Having people who have said these things be in a position of power isn't right."

Later in the day, the registrar of the licensing body that governs Ontario's dentists confirmed the regulator has asked Dalhousie University for the identities of the 13 students.

Irwin Fefergrad of the Royal College of Dental Surgeons of Ontario said those students can expect to face tough questions if they ever apply for a licence to practise in Ontario.

"This is not conduct that we would approve of or tolerate," Fefergrad said in an interview.

"It's something we'd want to have a look at for any applicant who has been a party to this. They would have to make a case of why they should have a licence, why they are safe to practise. They have to explain this conduct. They would not get a licence automatically."

Fefergrad said if the university fails to provide a list of names, then the college would have to ask every Dalhousie graduate seeking a licence if they had been the subject of a complaint or an inquiry at the university.

The suspensions come after four professors at the university filed a complaint over the allegations and asked that the male students be given an interim suspension to ensure people's safety on campus.

Francoise Baylis of the of the university's medical school said she was pleased with the clinical suspensions, but wondered why the school did not act sooner.

"The action taken doesn't go far enough and it could have been taken earlier in December, so I don't understand the delay," she said.

"We were asking for an interim suspension before the start of classes so that students coming back would know that they were going into a safe and supportive learning environment."

Florizone said the decision to suspend the clinical privileges was made on Dec. 22. He said the university waited two weeks to make it public after it heard reports that the male students involved were at risk of harming themselves and the school wanted to ensure that appropriate supports were available to them.

"We had credible reports from our frontline staff of potential self-harm," he said. "We took those seriously and so that concern for student safety overrode our concern about communicating this publicly."

The university launched a restorative justice process last month after an unspecified number of women filed a complaint under the university's sexual harassment policy and chose to proceed with the process. It is an informal and confidential resolution procedure that includes the parties involved.

The school said it is continuing with that, as well as looking at ways to "address the broader harm caused by this incident."

The university said the academic standards class committee can develop remediation plans and recommend academic dismissal. The students cannot receive a dentistry degree from Dalhousie University without meeting academic requirements, which includes professional standards.

The school said it will decide this week whether fourth-year dentistry classes will resume next Monday.

Follow @alison_auld on Twitter.

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