‘Sexism, Misogyny, Racism’ at Dalhousie University


Dalhousie University’s dentistry faculty has been found by an independent investigation of a controversial Facebook group to have permitted a culture of “sexism, misogyny, homophobia and racism.”

The Class of DDS 2015 Gentlemen group on Facebook came to public attention in late 2014 when 13 dentistry students were reported for its content. Members posted sexually violent content, like which woman they’d have “hate sex” with, and jokes about drugging women with chloroform.

The report said that incidents like these are common at the university:

Given the number, the duration and the range of people who told us about them, they cannot be dismissed as isolated.

The student who reported it, referred to in this report as Student A, was ostracized by both peers and the university after she lodged a formal complaint against students who posted a misogynistic poll, writes Simona Chiose of The Globe and Mail. She then graduated early and moved out of Canada.

The men were determined to be eligible to graduate, according to The Canadian Press.

Dalhousie president Richard Florizone appointed a task force to investigate allegations made against the university for its handling of the incident. Their recommendations for ending the culture of sexism, racism, and homophobia at the university included the transparent handling of complaints, outcomes that are shared with the complainant, spot-audits, “chilly climate” reports, anonymous surveys, and the installation of an ombudsman’s office. In particular, they asked that whistleblowers be protected from retaliation.

The report found that many students felt it was useless to make complaints because they didn’t feel that they would be heard.

Constance Backhouse, a law professor and research chair at the University of Ottawa, led the panel. She said:

We think the culture in the dental school is paternalistic and that there has been a degree of obliviousness to changing mores and to the ways in which respect for women should be expressed.

Minimizing what happened would be wrong. This was not an isolated incident. And the status quo is unacceptable. Furthermore, allowing the defensiveness that we all feel when challenged on sexism and heterosexism and racism to blunt our ability to change is counterproductive.

We were able to confirm that one male professor was terminated for cause two years ago because of sexual relationships with two female students. One professor showed a video of women in bikinis to his class. He was asked to apologize, which he later did.

Florizone said:

These are systemic issues. These are issues that we know other universities face. These are issues that are going to require all of us working together.

He hopes to have the panel’s 39 recommendations put into practice within two years.

Other members of the panel were Don McRae, also of the University of Ottawa, and Nitya Iyer, a lawyer with experience in human rights and professional regulation.

Letitia Meynell, a philosophy professor that is also on the university’s senate who has lodged complaints about the culture before, said:

If we are really committed to an equal society, it behooves every single one of us to look at our faily choices, judgments and interactions and see what we are doing that might be contributing to injustice and inequality. That’s hard and painful. … We’re embedded in this culture, but we can change.

Last month, a report on the same issue found that sexism, homophobia, and racism had a long history at the university, according to Michael MacDonald of the Canadian Press. For example, a student lounge known as “the Cavity” had its racist, homophobic, and sexist graffiti quietly painted over for the first time since the 1990s.

The entire report can be read at CBC News.