Response to Dentistry Facebook comments continues

The latest on the University's ongoing response

- January 5, 2015

The Dalhousie Dentistry building. (Bruce Bottomley photo)
The Dalhousie Dentistry building. (Bruce Bottomley photo)

This story will be updated throughout the week. Its most recent update was on Sunday, January 11 at 1 p.m.

The Dalhousie community has been shocked by revelations of offensive and misogynistic Facebook posts that came to light in December. The posts, many of which were about female students in the Faculty of Dentistry, were made by fellow fourth-year Dentistry students in a private Facebook group. The posts’ content has generated national media attention and sparked broad conversations about misogyny, sexism and the importance of inclusion and respect.

The situation has been a complicated, evolving one. Below is our compendium of the major developments in the University’s response to this situation to date.

Learn more: Culture of Respect website


This Facebook posts in question were first brought to the University’s attention on Monday, December 8 by an affected student. As indicated by Dalhousie President Richard Florizone, the content of the Facebook group’s posts were, “offensive, degrading to women and completely unacceptable.” Tom Boran, dean of the Faculty of Dentistry, added that the comments, “do not represent our students, or the hundreds of graduates who serve our communities in our region, in our country and the world.”

The work to consider an appropriate process to address the Facebook posts was already underway when the material was made public via the media on Monday, December 15. Given the broad concern arising from this news, the University committed to publicly communicating its next steps for addressing the allegations within the next 48 hours. During that period, many of the women who were the subject of the comments, as well as members of the Facebook group, came forward.

Restorative justice process underway

On December 17, in a statement published on Dal News, President Florizone communicated that a number of women affected had come forward to the University and chosen to pursue action under the Sexual Harassment Policy, electing to proceed with a restorative justice process.

The restorative justice process, intended to repair the harm caused, began in mid-December and is currently ongoing. (For more on restorative justice, you can read our Dal News story on the topic, published on December 18.) On January 9, the University shared that the DDS Class of 2015 demonstrated strong support for restorative justice proceeding, with 28 members of the class, including 14 women and 12 of the 13 Facebook page members electing to proceed with Restorative Justice. The process will therefore continue, consistent with University policy.

“Restorative Justice isn’t a process that can satisfy a desire for swift resolution. I understand that can be frustrating,” said President Florizone in his email to the Dal community on January 9. “However, its focus on reconciliation, reflection and understanding is a powerful tool for change and reflects the values of our institution.”   

13 students suspended from clinical activities, will not attend classes with the rest of their classmates

When it announced the restorative justice process, the University also committed to addressing the broader harm caused by this incident, as well as to address safety concerns among students, faculty and staff, and the public.

On Monday, in a joint statement from President Florizone and Dean Boran, the University announced that 13 fourth-year dental students have been suspended from clinical activities. The news was also shared with all students, faculty and staff via an email from the president.

“The suspension is necessary to ensure a safe and supportive environment for patients and classmates who participate in the clinics,” said Dr. Florizone and Dr. Boran in their statement. “Additionally, it will allow the Faculty of Dentistry Academic Standards Class Committee to consider the matter from the perspective of professionalism requirements.” (See below for more on the Academic Standards Class Committee.)

Students in Dalhousie’s DDS program are required to complete work in Dalhousie’s dental clinics as part of their degree requirements. The suspended students will not be able to participate in any clinic activities while the Academic Standards Class Committee’s consideration is ongoing. The students will not work with the public or directly with classmates in that setting.

The decision to suspend the students from clinic was made on December 22 and communicated to the students on the morning of Monday, January 5 after the students had returned to campus, ensuring the appropriate in-person supports were available to them (including information, counselling and other support services).

On Friday, January 9, the University announced the Academic Standards Class Committee’s decision that in addition to the clinical suspension, the 13 students would not attend classes with the rest of their classmates.

Issue under review by Dentistry Academic Standards committee

As noted above, following the suspension of clinical activities, the Faculty of Dentistry’s Academic Standards Class Committee (ASCC) is reviewing the actions of those students involved in the Facebook posts.

The Dentistry ASCC, whose review will commence this week, has broad authority over academic performance, including professionalism. Its powers include the authority to create remediation plans where warranted, and to recommend academic dismissal. This committee also recommends students for graduation.

“The committee will assess the situation of each individual and ensure that any individual recommended for graduation will have complied with the professionalism requirements of the academic program,” said Dr. Boran, speaking with reporters at a media event Monday morning. “No student will be permitted to graduate unless they have done so.”

President launches external investigation of the Faculty of Dentistry

On Friday, January 9, President Richard Florizone announced the launch of an external task force, under his authority under the President’s Statement on Prohibited Discrimination.

“Given the facts known to date, we need to have an independent third-party assessment of the environment within our Faculty of Dentistry,” wrote President Florizone, sharing the terms of reference for the task force and indicating the final reports will be made public.

Leading the Task Force on Misogyny, Sexism and Homophobia in the Faculty of Dentistry will be Professor Constance Backhouse of the University of Ottawa. Professor Backhouse holds the positions of Distinguished University Professor and University Research Chair at the University of Ottawa, and is internationally recognized for her work on sex discrimination and the legal history of gender and race in Canada. She is a Member of the Order of Ontario, a member of the Order of Canada, and a Fellow of the Royal Society. She is the recipient of numerous prestigious awards including the SSHRC Gold Medal for Achievement in Research, the Killam Prize in Social Sciences and the Trudeau Fellowship

Dean of Law Kim Brooks to lead strategic initiative on diversity and inclusiveness

The University also announced on that Kim Brooks, in partnership with Senate, will lead a strategic initiative on building a collegial culture of respect and inclusiveness. This is one of 25 initiatives that make up Dalhousie’s existing strategic plan. The University announced leadership of this priority on January 9 because its work will constitute an important part of the broader Dalhousie response to this incident.

Dental Clinics closed until Jan 12

On Monday, December 22, the Faculty of Dentistry announced the closure of the public dental clinics until January 12, contacting patients directly to reschedule appointments. The closure was part of broader efforts to ensure patients (as well as students, faculty and staff) are able to return to the clinics in a safe and supportive environment.

Code of conduct complaint not accepted

Prior to the holiday break, the University confirmed to news outlets that a formal complaint regarding the Facebook comments, filed under the Code of Student Conduct, had been submitted on December 22. Subsequent media reports have confirmed that four Dalhousie faculty members filed the complaint.

On Sunday, January 11, President Florizone shared that the University was not able to accept the formal complaint. The decision was shared with the four faculty members the morning of Saturday, January 10.

"I sincerely appreciate the efforts of our four faculty members," wrote Dr. Florizone in his update. "I respect them for their courage to take a public stand on behalf of others. This complaint has highlighted a need for careful review of our policies to ensure we have a respectful, inclusive community."

The Task Force on Misogyny, Sexism and Homophobia in the Faculty of Dentistry, led by Professor Constance Backhouse, will be reviewing Dalhousie's policies with recommendations on how they can be improved.

For more information

On Monday, January 5, the University launched a new website: It includes latest news about this evolving situation as well as answers to many of the common questions that University has received. You can submit additional questions through the site, and the Q&As will be updated regularly in the days and weeks ahead. 

Due to the sensitivities involved in this ongoing story, comments are closed.