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Update on ongoing response to Dentistry Facebook posts

Posted by Media Centre on March 2, 2015 in News

Statement by Dr. Richard Florizone
 

I am writing to share with you the latest developments in our ongoing response to the offensive Facebook posts by some members of the Dentistry (DDS) Class of 2015. The university’s response continues to consist of four initiatives, aimed at addressing both the specific incident and its broader implications:

  1. The Restorative Justice (RJ) process, which is proceeding under Dalhousie’s Sexual Harassment Policy. In this process, the men work directly with their classmates and others to understand the harms caused, to accept responsibility and to repair the damage.
  2. The Academic Standards Class Committee (ASCC), which has responsibility and authority for determining when each student has met the academic and professional standards for graduation. They are also the committee that suspended the male students from clinic, and have the authority to determine the conditions under which the suspension is lifted.
  3. The Task Force on Misogyny, Sexism and Homophobia in the Faculty of Dentistry, led by Professor Constance Backhouse of the University of Ottawa. The Task Force is conducting an independent investigation into the culture in the faculty of Dentistry, and is reviewing Dalhousie’s existing policies which address misogyny, sexism and homophobia.
  4. Dalhousie’s Strategic Initiative on Diversity and Inclusiveness, an existing Strategic Priority at Dalhousie that was given new urgency by this incident.  Led by Dean Kim Brooks, a preliminary report based on extensive community consultation is expected this week.


1. Restorative Justice

The Restorative Justice (RJ) process has now been underway for over two months. Twenty-nine members of the DDS Class of 2015 (including 14 women, 12 members of the Facebook group, and three other men) are participating. Under the guidance of Dalhousie’s RJ leaders and their local and international advisers, the Facebook group members have been working on understanding the harms caused, accepting responsibility and making amends.

This morning all twenty-nine students participating in RJ released a public statement. In that statement, the 14 women participating have reiterated their choice and commitment to RJ. They stated their respect for anyone impacted by this situation to proceed in a way they are most comfortable. They asked for the same respect.

Also in that statement, the 12 Facebook group members taking part in RJ have expressed remorse, taken ownership of what they have done, and recognized that they have harmed a broad range of people.  Within the RJ process, the men have apologized to some of those most directly harmed and their public statement recognizes that they have much more to do.

As part of the Restorative Justice process each of the men has now attended expert-led workshops on misogyny and rape culture; bystander intervention; sexualized and gendered violence; public safety and security, and other topics. Together this represents more than one thousand hours of collective work by the participants, with more to come.

Together, all of the RJ participants ask that we continue to respect their right to pursue this restorative justice process off the public stage.

2. The Academic Standards Class Committee (ASCC)

The ASCC is the committee with the responsibility and authority for determining when each student has met the academic requirements and professional standards for graduation.  They are also the committee that suspended the male students from clinic, and have the authority to determine the conditions under which the suspension is lifted.

Over the last two months, the work of the ASCC has included reviewing the Facebook material; receiving submissions from the students; meeting individually with each of the thirteen members of the Facebook group; receiving legal submissions; receiving reports from RJ; and extensive deliberations within the committee.

As part of their procedures, the ASCC is required to review the suspension from clinic. The ASCC has carefully considered whether a conditional return to clinic for the 12 men taking part in RJ would create any risk to students, staff and the public.

Based on this review, the ASCC has determined that each of the men may return to clinic under a number of conditions, which include: close supervision; ongoing participation in RJ; attendance at refresher training; participation in a series of classes on communication and professionalism; and ongoing demonstration of high standards of professionalism. A student may be removed from clinic if any of these conditions are violated. ASCC consideration of the 13th student is ongoing.

Safety remains our priority. Before making this decision, every woman in the class was individually consulted by an Assistant Dean in the Faculty of Dentistry.  Each woman supported the conditional return to clinic.  Additionally, no member of the public will receive treatment from any of the men if they choose not to.

The ASCC now continues its work assessing whether the 13 men will be able to meet the professional standards of their program, in light of both their participation within the Facebook group but also considering, where appropriate, their contributions to the RJ process. A summary of these procedures is available on the Culture of Respect website.

We do know, at this point, that due to missed clinic time some of the men will not graduate this spring. No one will graduate until the ASCC determines that they have met the high professional and academic standards we set for our Dentistry graduates.

3. Task Force on Misogyny, Sexism and Homophobia in the Faculty of Dentistry

On January 9, as part of Dalhousie’s response to this incident, I announced a Task Force on Misogyny, Sexism and Homophobia in Dalhousie’s Faculty of Dentistry.  Led by Professor Constance Backhouse of the University of Ottawa, that Task Force is now underway.

Professor Backhouse and her colleagues on the Task Force — Law professor Don McRae and human rights lawyer Nitya Iyer — made their first visit to campus last week, with several more scheduled over the coming months. The Task Force will examine the facts surrounding the Facebook posts and review the broader culture, practices and policies within the Faculty of Dentistry. Additionally, the Task Force will consider existing policies at Dalhousie and make recommendations for how they could be improved, including policies and practices that could be put in place to investigate anonymous complaints of harassment and discrimination.

Input for consideration can be made in writing to: dentistrytaskforce@dal.ca or submitted anonymously through the Task Force’s online portal. Professor Backhouse has committed to completing the report by June 30, and I look forward to taking meaningful action based on the Task Force’s recommendations.

4. Strategic Priority on Diversity and Inclusiveness

Strengthening diversity and inclusiveness at Dalhousie is a personal and institutional priority.  Indeed, this emerged as a theme in 100 Days of Listening and became a stated institutional priority in our Strategic Direction. The actions of the 13 men in the DDS 2015 Facebook group only reinforce the importance of this commitment, and the need for it to have university-wide reach and impact.

Over the last two months a diverse committee of students, faculty and staff, chaired by Dean of Law Kim Brooks, has conducted extensive consultation on the culture of inclusiveness across Dalhousie. The committee has conducted 60 outreach meetings and interviews with the Dalhousie community, reviewed publications from peer universities, and reviewed hundreds of comments to inform their recommendations. This work supports our broad aim of ensuring that faculty, staff, students and alumni of our university all play an active role in supporting a more diverse and inclusive campus where all members of the university community belong.

I expect the committee’s report to be published within the next several days. The report focuses around six themes — Understand, Learn, Reflect, Account, Support, and Heal — and addresses not only the institutional mechanisms required to support an inclusive and diverse university, but the ways in which each member of the Dalhousie community must take responsibility for supporting inclusion and diversity. I look forward to continuing this crucial conversation in the coming days and weeks, and to working together to lead lasting change within our community.

Summary

As we have said from the outset, the behavior of the Facebook group was offensive and completely unacceptable. Dalhousie made a commitment to a just process with significant consequences. We also made a commitment to ensuring the safety of our students, faculty, staff and patients. These commitments continue, and we have made meaningful progress in addressing this disturbing behavior. 

As a result of these ongoing processes, the men were separated from regular classes, were temporarily suspended from clinic, and we know that some of the men will not graduate in May. And none will graduate until the ASCC determines that the high professional and academic standards we set for our graduates have been met. 

This incident and the broader issues have led many of us to reflect deeply on our values and our commitments as a community. The question it asks all of us is: “How can we do better?” Through restorative justice, 12 male students who took part in the Facebook group are learning about how they need to change, as part of accepting responsibility and the consequences for their actions. The ASCC will ensure that standards of professionalism are met. The Task Force will consider what measures our Faculty of Dentistry can undertake to build a more supportive community. And through the Strategic Initiative on Diversity and Inclusiveness, all of us will be engaged in considering how we move closer to the goal of a university in which everyone feels welcome, supported and included.

The journey towards a society that is rid of misogyny, homophobia and sexism is a long one, but it is a journey we are all on together. As an institution of higher learning, one that values the transformative power of education, Dalhousie has a particularly important role: to teach, to learn, to listen, to lead. Together we can help lead the journey towards lasting change.