When restorative justice isn’t enough

Emma Teitel on the Dalhousie dentistry students and misogyny at her alma mater

Ingrid Bulmer/The Chronicle Herald

Ingrid Bulmer/The Chronicle Herald

Dalhousie University, my alma mater, is a sleepy mid-sized school where nobody would fault you for wearing pyjamas to class; it is situated in a sleepy, mid-sized city (Halifax) where jaywalking is encouraged by drivers who stop their cars in the middle of the road long before pedestrians even indicate they’d like to cross. In other words, Dal is a pretty relaxing place to matriculate—especially, it appears, if you are a woman-hating dentistry student. The university seems to have taken the Maritime region’s peaceable, deferential attitude to perverse new heights: School president Richard Florizone announced he would not suspend or expel outright the 13 male dentistry students who created a wildly misogynistic Facebook group that extolled the virtues of chloroform-enabled rape, but would resolve the issue through “restorative justice.” In other words, punishments will be doled out in-house, with the input of those harmed—namely, female dentistry students openly disparaged in the Facebook group. This decision did not please Dal faculty: In late December, 150 faculty members at the school signed a petition calling for an independent review of the Facebook-group incident.

The group, Class of DDS 2015 Gentlemen, deleted shortly after an anonymous source alerted the press to its existence, was a mecca of juvenile, hateful material. It was not, as many of its defenders claim, home to harmless, sexist jokes of the “make me a sandwich” variety. In addition to a quiz about female dentistry students entitled “Who would you hate-f–k?” (sadder still is that these geniuses had to borrow their sexist barbs from Jian Ghomeshi), the group’s content included explicit jokes about sedating women for sexual purposes. In one post, a photo of a man holding a rag up to a woman’s face was accompanied by the caption: “Does this rag smell like chloroform to you?” To add insult to injury, the group’s creators also exhibited a very poor understanding of human biology. In the now-deleted words of one member: “Penis . . . The tool used to wean and convert lesbians and virgins into useful, productive members of society.” In short, the so-called dentistry gentlemen not only implicated themselves as deviant pricks, but as unprofessional, irresponsible dolts. This isn’t a case of “rape culture.” It is one of malpractice.

Yet the school has decided to handle the issue behind closed doors with the promise, says Florizone, that the process will be “victim-centred.” In Florizone’s defence, Gerald Hashey, a senior manager with the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission, told the CBC, “The restorative approach is the best way to ensure that community interest, public interest and the interests of the female students are kept at the heart of the issue.”

A restorative approach to justice in this case may benefit the victims—if, of course, the victims wish to resolve the issue as quickly as possible without fear of being named, even at the expense of the “gentlemen” getting off scot-free (and let’s face it, scot-free in this case means any punishment short of expulsion). But the suggestion that restorative justice will benefit the community and the public at large is a sick joke. For starters, dentistry school is not a community. It is a professional school: a launching pad into the world—which was a public place, the last time I checked. And the public will not benefit from a closed-door approach to rape jokes made by aspiring dentists. Something tells me the guys responsible for this Facebook group might have a thing or two in common with the doctor who allegedly took a selfie with an incapacitated Joan Rivers minutes before her death. In other words, the sooner we know their names, the better.

After all, according to Dal’s faculty of dentistry website, the school and its students have been “providing public dental care for over 100 years.” The students, no doubt, were among those to “provide care for approximately 10,000 patients a year . . . at a reduced rate,” as the website reports. Natasha Legay, a 19-year-old student at Halifax’s Mount Saint Vincent University, is one of those patients. She can’t afford to go to a professional dentist and is very uncomfortable with the possibility that one of the guys in the Facebook group might have worked on her teeth in the past—or might in the future. “I was hoping the students would be suspended, just for my peace of mind,” she says. Her peace of mind doesn’t appear to be of great concern to an administration more interested in covering up a scandal than laying it bare. Rather than suspend or expel the students responsible, Dal dentistry has chosen to temporarily close its public clinic until Jan. 12, indirectly punishing the low-income people who rely on its services, for the bad behaviour of 13 students.

Considering that morals don’t seem to be my alma mater’s cup of tea, there is another, equally compelling reason for Dalhousie to expel the dentistry “gentlemen.” The members of the Facebook group, presumably, reared and educated in the digital age, thought it was prudent to attach their names to their posts about sexually assaulting their classmates. Moreover, they also thought it was prudent to include the name of their program in the title of their rape-joke club. So, Dalhousie, as a once-proud member of your institution, I plead with you: If you don’t expel these losers because they are a threat to public safety, expel them because they are too stupid to graduate.


When restorative justice isn’t enough

  1. This writer is hysterical.

  2. Hilarious! yes, expel them for being stupid. or publish their names for at least putting themselves out in the public in the first place. Who are they trying to kid?

    • They didn’t put it in public, it was a private Facebook group. If it was “public”, their names would already have been published.

  3. Give them a choice:
    1) Their name published, and they can stay in the program.


    2) Withdraw from the program, and their names withheld.

  4. It’s unfortunate that the author didn’t take the time to explore and understand what Restorative Justice is, and what it involves – especially as there are many experts in the field in Halifax and at Dalhousie University (Jennifer Llewellyn for one). Their comments on the issue are certainly worth a listen before dismissing the process out of hand.

    The big problem seems to stem from her lack of understanding of what a “community” is in the Restorative Justice context. The School of Dentistry (faculty, staff, and students) is absolutely a community, and one whose members have been harmed as a result of the actions of these individuals. So has the greater Dalhousie community, the Halifax community who uses the services of the clinic (as mentioned in the article), the Dentistry community who have had their profession tarnished, the Nova Scotian women’s community, etc. All these groups have suffered some degree of harm as a result of these actions.

    Expelling the students out of hand wouldn’t deal with the harm that has been caused, nor would it address the underlying culture of misogyny that motivated the events. If your goal is to simply punish the students for what they did, fine – go through the formal senate disciplinary committee process. If your goal is to repair the damage caused, then RJ is absolutely worth exploring.

    Oh – and on the topic of the senate disciplinary committee, the University president can no more expel a student on a whim than the PM can arbitrarily throw someone in jail. There is a formal process that has to be undertaken before students can be expelled. Given the winter break, the soonest that process can likely be undertaken won’t be until some time in the new year.

    • BVLM, you are amongst the first rational commenters I have seen on this topic on any site. Of course the President can’t just outright expel students without following due process. And all of the people calling for their outright and immediate suspension are misguided, because it would immediately open the university up to litigation (judicial review of university disciplinary cases has happened in the past, and if universities don’t follow their own policies and processes then it is almost guaranteed to be overturned and referred back to the university to deal with properly, not to mention possible civil litigation it might face).

      And I agree completely with you that most of the anger placed towards the restorative justice process is made in complete ignorance of what it entails. Yes, there are cases where restorative justice fails (and has revictimized people involved), but in the vast majority of cases it results in better outcomes than formal proceedings would. When you understand ‘community’, then the options for sanctions are quite broad. It has been made clear in the media earlier that the right to practice in the Faculty of Dentistry’s public clinic is a privilege (not a right) for students in the Faculty, so I would be surprised to not see that as an element of the decision from the restorative justice process.

      There is also a key element that seems to be missing from the dialogue. Graduating with a degree does not guarantee license to practice. Graduating from Law School does not mean you are automatically called to the Bar, and this is same in virtually ALL professions – including Dentistry. Sanctions against the students will almost inevitably occur from the restorative justice process at Dalhousie (though what they will be, and to whom, remains to be seen), but perhaps the most important sanction may yet be undertaken by the Nova Scotia Dental Association. Each Dentistry student is a ‘student member’ of the NSDA. It is clear that at least some of the posts on Facebook violate the NSDA Code of Ethics (and the NSDA has even released a notice saying as such). I would be surprised if the Nova Scotia Dental Association doesn’t review the membership of the men involved due to this violation of the code of ethics. Without membership in the NSDA, it is impossible to become a licensed Dentist in Nova Scotia (and this would likely be upheld by the respective College of Dentists in other provinces). I have seen no discussion of this in the media at all.

  5. This is too funny. A bunch of guys make a few tasteless jokes, in a private setting online, and people are demanding they be expelled. Yet you get a bunch of people together on campus to publicly call for the killing of Jews, and the same people will defend their right to “free speech” till the cows come home.

    Honestly, I think it’s high time that universities started banning students who can’t handle hearing anything that may be offensive to them. If you want to be educated, you have to be able to hear things that you don’t agree with. It would seem that many Dalhousie students (and evidently, alumni) aren’t capable of thickening their skin.

    • First and foremost, there is nothing private about facebook (haven’t you been paying attention, you can get fired or passed over for a job because of facebook posts), furthermore these are not some average guys joking around, these are future doctors of dentistry who will be seeing women and teenage patients, some of whom will be sedated. How are we too trust these morons with our daughters and mothers! Dalhousie University has just ruined the future careers of any male graduates of the program whether or not they participated in the moronic group so once again, the actions of a few idiots ruin it for the whole!

  6. Here is what will happen if Dalhousie does not expel these “gentlemen”:

    Many, many people who are appropriately outraged by their conduct, especially but not solely women, will refuse to ever seek dental care from any dentist who is a male 2015 graduate of DDS.

    This will be hurtful to innocent male 2015 graduates of DDS.

    If Dalhousie cares at all about the reputations and careers if its upstanding students, it will kick the bad apples to the curb.

  7. Why is there so much debate about this.

    They made threatening remarks about future patients.
    They made threatening remarks about classmates.

    In what alternate reality is this ever “harmless” or “merely vulgar”.

    They should be expelled. And if anyone thinks that is too harsh, they should convince their daughter/wife/sister/mother to undergo dental treatment with one of the perpetrators to prove their point.

  8. Tasteless joking aside . . this consumer will ensure any dentist that is seen does not have a diploma from Dalhousie University (unless it is a woman). I realize that not all males in the program were party to this but since there is no way of knowing who participated I will put my families safety and well being before any other persons “rights”. If this is how they feel how can I ensure my families safety at the hands of these morons, there is no telling what they may do to my teenage daughters when they are under sedation. Say what you will about knee jerk reactions but actions speak louder than words and Dal U has just shown me that their students (good or bad) take precedence over the future patients some of these idiots will be treating. The harm is done and the inaction of the University speaks volumes!

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