12/16/2014 05:54 EST | Updated 02/15/2015 05:59 EST

Dalhousie dentistry complaints date back to summer, student says

The president of Dalhousie University knew about sexism complaints against the dentistry faculty in the summer, says the vice-president of the Dalhousie Student Union.

Jennifer Nowoselski told As It Happens that the DSU heard about the issue long before a Facebook group called Class of DDS 2015 Gentlemen came to light this week.

"We had received some direct complaints around sexual harassment and sexist comments and preferential treatment of male students, especially in clinical settings," she said Tuesday.

With the complainants' permission, the DSU approached university president Richard Florizone, who referred them to the campus Office of Human Rights, Equity and Harassment Prevention.

Nowoselski said they soon discovered the students could not go forward anonymously with the complaints.

"They were really worried about any repercussions in the faculty based on their experiences," she said. "They asked us not to pursue it any further."

Speaking on break from her hometown of Saskatoon, Nowoselski declined to detail the nature of the complaints, but said they involved students, faculty and staff. 

Florizone acknowledged receiving those concerns.

"We take every concern like this seriously," he said Tuesday evening, adding the matter ended when the student declined to go forward publicly. 

Nowoselski said the Facebook page showed the same problems as the complaints earlier this year.

"It's not uncommon on campus and it's extremely heartbreaking and really hard to work with," she said.

"Imagine sitting in a classroom and trying to focus on studying — because that's what you're there for — when you're sitting in a room with people that have talked about raping you."

Need for anonymous reporting

She said the Facebook group reminded her of the summer complaints, her own personal experiences and complaints she'd heard about other faculties.

"I think I've definitely experienced misogyny on campus," she said. 

"The real message around this is that the university doesn't have any methods to combat misogyny and rape culture on our campus. Some of the conversations were directly about raping students."

Nowoselski, a political science and international development studies student at Dalhousie, rejected remarks by people who said students were overreacting to locker-room chatter.

"It's never OK to discriminate or sexually objectify people around you. It is not an overreaction to say discussing how you are going to rape your peers is somehow OK. It's never OK," she said.

"It's absurd that this exists in universities. It's absurd that this exists in workplaces. It's systemic. I feel like I have to hope that it will change."

A good step in that direction, she said, would be to allow anonymous reporting of misogyny.