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Dalhousie Dentistry Students' Restorative Justice Process Complete, Report Says

05/22/2015 08:40 EDT | Updated 05/22/2016 05:59 EDT
HALIFAX - Dalhousie dentistry students who posted misogynistic comments about their female classmates in a private Facebook group will be allowed to graduate, university officials said Friday as they released a report that found sexism was deeply rooted in the faculty.

University president Richard Florizone said 12 of the 13 men who participated in a restorative justice process after the sexually violent comments came to light late last year could receive their degrees if they fulfil the program's clinical requirements by May 27.

Florizone said the fourth-year students who were part of the social media group had successfully completed the five-month justice process, which involved working with most of the female students featured on the page.

"The men have taken ownership of their actions, gained a deep understanding of the harm that was caused, they've apologized to those most directly impacted and together spent more than 1,500 hours working to repair the damage," Florizone told reporters.

The report into the sexist online posts concluded that the dentistry students started the so-called Gentlemen's Club in 2011 as a bonding exercise, but that it turned offensive over the more than three years it existed.

"Members sought to 'one up' each other in ways that were frequently crude in nature and aimed at shock value," says the 70-page report.

"(It) became a place to vent frustrations, often in unhealthy and at times extremely offensive ways."

Members of the Class of DDS Gentlemen page reportedly 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)."

Four of the women featured in the posts complained to university officials in December, leading Florizone to launch the justice process that involved both men and women from the class while examining the faculty's culture.

The report released Friday examined the restorative justice process and the climate and culture at the faculty of dentistry. It was co-authored by a Dalhousie law professor, the school's community safety officer and a harassment prevention adviser in the Office of Human Rights.

The investigation found there were perceptions among participating students that racist, misogynistic and homophobic behaviours were not adequately handled, amid rumours of favouritism and unprofessionalism.

The report says the climate at the school helped shape the development of the sexist Facebook page. The authors say that other previous instances "suggest sexism, homophobia and racism are deeply rooted issues affecting the faculty."

It cited a student lounge at the school called "the Cavity," that was scrawled wall-to-wall with racist, homophobic and sexist graffiti dating back to the 1990s. Students also signed their names and date of graduation next to the comments.

The walls have since been painted over.

The report also found that female students were exposed to sexually inappropriate comments by faculty members and rarely spoke up because they feared being labelled "trouble makers."

Still, the women who participated in the process said in a statement that they accepted the men's apologies.

"More than that though, we have seen the men learn why they are sorry and what that requires of them," the statement reads.

For their part, the men say they accept responsibility for their comments.

"We have hurt many of those closest to us," they say in a similar statement. "We do not ask for our actions to be excused. They are inexcusable. We do commit to doing better as professionals."

The men were temporarily suspended from clinical practice in January, but later reinstated.

Wayne MacKay, a Dalhousie law professor and cyberbullying expert, said the report appeared to take a thorough look at the issue but may do little to rehabilitate the school's reputation following high-profile protests calling for the group members' expulsion.

He said some may still feel that the men should have been penalized by having their graduation delayed.

"There's still a large challenge for Dalhousie to communicate to the public that they have taken this seriously and that this kind of conduct will not be accepted," he said. "The general public will still not feel satisfied that those directly involved have had consequences for this."

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