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The Dalhousie University dentistry building is seen in Halifax on Jan. 12, 2015.

ANDREW VAUGHAN/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Dalhousie University students participating in a restorative-justice process released an open letter Monday in which they make clear the toll that the controversy over misogynistic posts made by male dentistry students has taken on their entire class, and plead for privacy.

The statement, obtained in advance exclusively by The Globe and Mail, comes as a decision on the students' academic future is expected soon. Since Jan. 5, the 13 students in the Facebook group where the comments were posted have been suspended from dental clinics run by the school while an academic committee considers whether they will be allowed to graduate.

The open letter includes three distinct viewpoints: from most of the men in the group; six women who were directly targeted in the posts; and 11 men and women from the graduating class.

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The men in the group say in the letter that they have waited to comment publicly because they are still understanding the harm they caused.

"We know much more than saying 'sorry' is required. We are doing the hard work to figure out how to truly be sorry. We owe meaningful apologies to those we have impacted most directly first. Through the process we have had the opportunity to offer some of those apologies already and they have been accepted."

There are 46 students in the fourth-year dentistry class, 21 women and 25 men. Four women released a statement in January rejecting restorative justice and asking the university to launch a formal investigation under the student code of conduct, an approach the university turned down. Ryan Millett, one of the men who participated in the Class of DDS 2015 Gentlemen Facebook group, has spoken out against it, and is pursuing his case with a lawyer, separately.

The women writing in the letter say they decided to participate in restorative justice "independently and without coercion" but feel their decision was "dismissed" in media accounts and on social media.

"We are strong, well-educated professional women with words of our own to explain what we are going through and how we want to proceed," they write.

The letter comes almost three months after the controversy began in the wake of the release of the content of misogynistic posts the men had written starting in 2011 on a private Facebook group. A number of investigations are probing what happened in the group and the climate on campus. On Friday, a task force that is examining the environment in the dental faculty began one of several campus visits it will make before it publishes a report in the summer.

The 13 men in the Facebook group have been attending classes remotely, separated from their classmates. That was not a decision they supported, the women write.

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Segregating the men "fragmented and alienated us at a time when we were particularly in need of support from our class community. Many have asserted that all women feel unsafe, but this is not the case for us – we feel safe with the members of the Facebook group involved in this restorative process."

"What you see in the statement [from the women] is a process to cut through the noise and … to be supportive and attentive to each other and the help they need without being cookie cutter," said Jennifer Llewellyn, the law professor and international human-rights and restorative-justice expert who is an adviser in the Dalhousie process.

Restorative justice brings perpetrators and victims together to talk about the harms to the victims and find redress that, theoretically, recognizes those harms.

The men in the group say they are committed to changing themselves and the profession they hope to join. "We know that we cannot go back and undo what has happened, but we are committed to making this experience matter. … We have been given this opportunity, through this restorative-justice process, to confront what we have done, the harm it has caused, and to learn what we need to do to become the trusted professionals we want to be," they write.

Dentistry regulatory bodies across the country have said they would take extra steps to ensure the men in the Facebook group who may want to apply for a licence to practise are of "good character."

Ms. Llewellyn said that along with individual responsibility, the entire class has been addressing the question of what they could have done to prevent or stop the group. "There is a significant recognition that what is at stake is a shared responsibility for the acts and the wider culture in which they happen," she said.

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