HALIFAX - Dalhousie University is proceeding with a restorative justice process to resolve complaints about sexually violent comments posted on a Facebook group page about female dentistry students, the university's president said Wednesday.
The Halifax university said many of the women who were the subject of the comments and members of the Facebook group have come forward.
University president Richard Florizone said the women have chosen the restorative justice process, which is an informal and confidential resolution procedure that includes the parties involved.
Florizone said the restorative justice process is intended to explore the impacts of the comments and address accountability, adding that its outcome may be made public if those involved want it to.
He said all 13 men who were members of the Facebook group are fourth-year dentistry students and they will participate. There are 47 people in the class, he said.
"The route we've taken is the route the women have selected," Florizone told a news conference Wednesday night. "We will also hold the men accountable for participation in this process.
"We all know some redress needs to be made. Our objective is to create some space to create what they think the effective redress is."
At a couple of points during his news conference, Florizone choked back tears as he discussed meeting with the female students.
"I'm struck by the maturity and grace of the women I've talked with. I'm struck by the horror and regret I hear from some of the men involved that have corresponded with me," he said.
"It doesn't excuse it. It doesn't remedy the situation. But it's a fact."
According to the CBC, members of the Class of DDS 2015 Gentlemen page 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)."
Florizone said the matter was brought to the university's attention on Dec. 7 from one of the affected students, who met with the school's human rights, equity and harassment prevention office.
He said he has heard from some experts that's it's important to be cautious in these situations because emotions are running high and counselling may be needed.
"It's a very significant situation. It's a watershed moment at Dalhousie and the road forward is not easy."
He said if the people involved in the process don't participate in good faith, a more formal complaint process will go ahead involving an investigator that could be referred to a discipline committee of the school's senate.
In the university's students' code of conduct, penalties for violating set behavioural expectations range from a warning to a suspension or expulsion.
"This incident is particularly saddening because it shows how much more work we have to do, as an institution and a society, to create an environment free from harassment, discrimination and sexualized violence," Florizone said.
He said not all of the women affected have said they will participate in the process and it's still possible one or more could launch a formal complaint procedure that could go to the university senate disciplinary committee.
The university has also postponed fourth-year dentistry school exams until January, a decision Florizone has said was made due to anxiety among students that was caused by the Facebook page.
He said Wednesday he will form a presidential task force in the coming weeks aimed at nurturing an inclusive and respectful community at the university.
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