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Margaret Wente

Margaret Wente

Margaret Wente

Dalhousie’s dental hysteria Add to ...

Here’s what we’ve come to on campus today. If you make a stupid, juvenile mistake, you can be utterly destroyed. If you’re male, that is.

Utter destruction – of reputation, educational investment and future livelihood – is the fate now being contemplated by 13 fourth-year dental students at Dalhousie University. They had the bad judgment to join a Facebook group called the “Class of DDS 2015 Gentlemen.” Some – we don’t know how many – posted crude and sniggering sexual comments.

On Monday, they were indefinitely suspended from clinical activities, but a lot of people don’t think that goes far enough. They want them expelled – or perhaps drawn and quartered. Four faculty members have called for the school to launch an independent inquiry into sexualized violence on campus.

In fact, the main campus safety risk at the moment is to the mental health of the male students caught up in this nightmare. Dalhousie president Richard Florizone said Monday they had been offered counselling because of “credible reports” of potential self-harm.

What was their crime? On their Facebook page, some of them joked about using chloroform on women. Someone asked the members to vote on which female student they’d rather have “hate” sex with. In one post, someone jokes that a penis is “the tool used to wean and convert lesbians and virgins into useful, productive members of society.” Another responds, “And by productive I’m assuming you mean it inspires them to become chefs, housekeepers, babysitters, etc.”

Stupid, juvenile and way out of line? Undoubtedly. Should there be serious consequences? Yes. But let’s get a grip. Such coarse talk is not atypical of young male group behaviour. It does not mean that they actually wanted to assault chloroformed women.

It’s too bad they didn’t get a sharp smack across the chops from a respected elder. Alas, that didn’t happen. So now they are the latest villains in the “rape culture” witch hunt that has gripped universities across North America. Their identities will probably not remain secret. Poor saps.

Interestingly, a female dental student who spoke with the CBC said she wasn’t as upset by the sexual comments as she was about the suggestion that women should get back to the kitchen. “Very disrespectful,” she said.

Mr. Florizone has done a decent job of handling the crisis so far. The publicity has been awful. Some donors are angry and parents are wondering whether it’s safe to send their daughters to Dal. (My advice: Worry more about your sons.) He must deal sternly with the miscreants but also make sure they aren’t railroaded by vigilante justice. A stiff suspension, plus a whole lot of process involving “restorative justice,” seems about right. Destroying their futures seems both wrong and legally risky. His most important job now is to salvage the school’s excellent reputation, even as its critics (including many faculty members and students) seek to trash it even further.

“Like all forms of discrimination, the misogyny and callousness at Dalhousie have been carefully taught,” Joan Rush, a professor of health law and ethics who is not affiliated with Dal, wrote recently in The Globe and Mail. She blames white men, who still run most dental schools and professional associations, for the “culture of hatred and chauvinism.”

Personally, I doubt dentistry is quite that bad. Besides, the men are in decline. Like pharmacy and veterinary medicine, the profession is experiencing a huge influx of women. Women made up 57 per cent of Canada’s dental graduates in 2012, and in many classes, the ratio is now two to one. Despite all that misogyny, women seem to be doing just fine.

Tuesday’s print version and previous online versions of this column said 13 dental students were indefinitely suspended. They were indefinitely suspended from clinical activities.

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