A group of male fourth-year Dalhousie University dentistry students who posted misogynistic comments about their female colleagues on a Facebook page, including crude jokes about sedating them for rough sex, are at risk of expulsion.
University president Richard Florizone has launched an investigation into the incident, and immediately postponed exams for the 47 fourth-year students – 26 men and 21 women – until January, not wanting any targets of the offensive posts to be sitting next to a perpetrator until he knows more.
He is considering a range of options, including expulsion, but said in an interview Tuesday that he is "really focused on gathering the information at this point." He is also concerned about the female victims – and says he will be guided by "what is best for the women who have been harmed by this and how we can best redress that harm."
An online petition is calling for the students, who are in their mid- to late-20s, to be expelled.
Dr. Florizone said that, in the last few days, a student had come forward to the administration with a complaint about comments on a Facebook group. As this was being investigated, screen captures of the pages with the disturbing comments leaked to the CBC, and the controversy blew up overnight Monday.
The social media group was called the Class of DDS 2015 Gentlemen. According to the CBC, some of the students voted on the female students they would like to have "hate" sex with and also talked about using chloroform to incapacitate the women.
Dr. Florizone said specific female students were named on the Facebook page. He does not know how long the Facebook page was online before it was taken down late last week, according to the CBC.
"I haven't reviewed all the material but I have seen enough to know that it is entirely unacceptable," he said.
For Dalhousie Student Union president Ramz Aziz, however, this is not a complete surprise. Last summer, a female dental student came to him, saying she was representing other women in her class. She spoke to him on the condition of anonymity, fearing that she would lose her degree or be targeted for speaking out.
She complained, he said, about preferential treatment of male students and harassment – comments about their hair and clothes – by the male students.
Mr. Aziz characterized the dentistry faculty as an "old boys' club." He says he spoke to Dr. Florizone about this and was advised to take it to the university's human rights office. The president confirmed he was told about this – "It was hard for me to do much about it without any specifics," Dr. Florizone said.
Michaela Sam, chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students – Nova Scotia, called the incident "incredibly concerning" and another example of sexism on university campuses.
Last year, there was an incident at another university in Halifax, Saint Mary's, after first-year students were involved in a chant about non-consensual sex during an orientation event.
That university's administration struck a task force that made a number of recommendations, including hiring more female professors and putting women in more senior leadership roles.
"We need to be talking about consent. We need to be talking about 'no means no,'" Ms. Sam says. "We can't just respond to these events as they happen.