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Canada Dalhousie dentistry students scrambled to contain damage after comments became public

Students head to the Dalhousie University dentistry building in Halifax on Tuesday, Jan.6, 2015. There are renewed calls for the expulsion of more than a dozen male dentistry students at the school after they allegedly posted misogynistic comments about their female colleagues on Facebook. The Alberta Dental Association and College has joined Ontario’s dental regulatory body to call on Dalhousie’s dentistry faculty to release the names of the 13 students involved in the scandal.

Andrew Vaughan/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Male dentistry students at Dalhousie University who made misogynistic comments on a Facebook group had an extensive discussion about how to minimize the damage after their comments became public, documents obtained by The Globe and Mail show. A transcript of some of the Facebook exchanges shows that the group, Class of DDS 2015 Gentlemen, had existed since at least 2011.

The controversy has cast a shadow over the graduating class. On Tuesday, dentistry regulatory bodies in Alberta and B.C. joined Ontario and Nova Scotia in announcing they would take extra steps to ensure that men from the Dalhousie class of 2015 who apply for a licence to practise are of "good character." And, in an open letter released on Tuesday, four women in the class reject the university's restorative justice process and say they do not want to pursue a formal complaint because that approach would not grant them anonymity.

"We have serious concerns about the impact of filing formal complaints on our chances of academic success at the Faculty of Dentistry, and believe that doing so would jeopardize our futures," the women say in the letter. "… We feel that the University is pressuring us into this process, silencing our views, isolating us from our peers, and discouraging us from choosing to proceed formally."

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The letter writers urge university president Richard Florizone to accept and investigate a formal complaint launched by four faculty members under the Student Code of Conduct.

Theoretically, restorative justice brings perpetrators and victims together to talk about the harms to the victims and find redress that recognizes those harms. Dr. Florizone has said two women who brought the misogynist posts to the attention of the university on Dec. 8 accepted that process.

More than 50 pages of Facebook posts read by The Globe provide a clear document of how the group reacted to discovering that someone had blown the whistle. Priority No. 1 was the need to manage the crisis and find out who had leaked the posts to female classmates.

One member of the group wrote: "Red Alert!!! … We have to get rid of the evidence." Another man proposed "some kind of rapprochement with the girls … drafting a statement on behalf of the Guys Club." A poll of possible options includes "do nothing" or "issue statement of some sort."

In December, after students complained to the university, one member of the group tells the others that many faculty are aware of the allegations. "Just a heads up. Sounds very serious. Especially given the climate across the country given this sort of stuff."

Others are concerned that members of the group showed the posts to female classmates, which meant they could no longer discuss their female colleagues openly. The posts indicate they were more concerned with finding the culprits than how the university might respond. "boys what are they going to do? .... Kick every guy out of 4th year? .... I think the bigger issue is who .. is showing the girls."

A woman's name is proposed as the person who made the first complaint to the university, but at least two men defend her: "I'd rather people hated me than more hate on [name]," one post says. Some men are rueful about the end of the group, with one writing that "the guys group has always been a place for everyone to cut loose" and describing the posts as "lockeroom talk."

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The first post in the documents is from 2011. Conversations from before the group was discovered contain complaints about exam stress, faculty standards, and sexual and medical jokes that sometimes refer to female classmates by name. At one point, one person says female students are "damn honey traps" who receive more attention from instructors than male students, even though, the post continues, they are not as well prepared as the male students. The post received 20 likes.

One result of the controversy is that each male student graduating from the program this year will receive extra scrutiny from provincial regulatory bodies that grant dentists licences to practise. Many of the students at Dalhousie's dentistry school are not Nova Scotia residents.

The Alberta Dental Association and College on Tuesday called on Dalhousie to provide it with the names of the students involved in the group "if and when they graduate." And the College of Dental Surgeons of British Columbia said graduates wanting to practise in the province will be required to disclose "any accusations or findings of misconduct while in academia." A joint statement from all provincial regulators is expected in the coming days.

Dalhousie on Tuesday denied a request from the Royal College of Dental Surgeons of Ontario for the names of the male students in the group over privacy concerns.

The men have been suspended from clinical activities while an academic committee considers further penalties, such as academic suspension or expulsion.

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