Dalhousie University grappled with punishment for 13 dentistry students who made misogynistic comments on Facebook. Restorative justice? Throw the book at them? Readers, print and digital, opened up.
"Stupid, juvenile mistakes" have real-life consequences (Dalhousie's Dental Hysteria – Jan. 6). Should a fair review process confirm media reports of misogynistic behaviour, expulsion from dental school seems an appropriate consequence relative to the potential harm to peers, the dental profession and the broader community.
Boys will be boys, so long as there are no consequences to suggest other ways of behaving. These twentysomething "boys" are about to face the consequences of their actions. If this prevents future "mistakes," they and we will be well served.
Ann Fox, Toronto
The reality is, these male students will become business owners in a profession that is dominated by young females who provide assistance. Imagine the toxic work environment when a student who was never challenged on misogynistic thoughts is allowed to run a dental office and do whatever they want, especially if someone is afraid to speak up in fear of losing their job. I don't know if expelling the students is the right answer, because how do they learn from that? But losing their year and being required to participate in restorative justice may get them on the right path.
Aaron Billard, Moncton
Given that these students have several years of undergraduate training and four years of dental school, I would guess that most are in their mid-20s. These are bright young men who absolutely knew that their actions were way out of line.
My solution would be to suspend them for a year with the option to return at that time depending on counselling and a full public apology. This would give them time to lick their wounds and reflect on what has past and what they can expect if and when they return to the school. The notoriety and extra financial cost would be considerable both to them and their families. Then we'll see who the real men are.
David Sedgman, Kamloops
A review of Dalhousie's policy on harassment shows that expulsion is appropriate for this type of offence. This is neither a "witch hunt" nor "vigilante justice." This is a rule that was broken. We learn about rules in kindergarten. No matter how juvenile the offenders, they still have to answer for their conduct.
Laura Stenberg, Toronto
Should it be found that at least one women has left the program because of their behaviour, the "teachable moment" becomes an inadequate response, and a discussion of damages owed and expulsion should begin.
Vic Rogerson, Calgary
Wouldn't an appropriate response be: "You lack the maturity and professionalism to graduate this year and need time to grow up, to obtain relevant counselling and to understand and embrace standards of professionalism in dentistry"?
These students are men, not boys, they have engaged in inexplicable, vulgar and alarming conversations that have rightly left others, including their female classmates, outraged. So divert their graduation for a year to two and allow them time to mature and, hopefully, wise up.
Patricia Dupuis, Nepean, Ont.
These are bullies who should consider themselves lucky not to be charged and imprisoned for some sort of assault or conspiracy to harm. These are young intelligent men who probably entered dentistry as a means of earning a good living. Being denied their dentistry career, when they undoubtedly have many more suitable options, will be good for them and for society.
Jonathan Usher, Toronto
The young students were crude and obnoxious, but hardly dangerous as long as they were making private comments. They were certainly not "spewing forth violent hatred," simply making attempts at humour. There is a difference. The problem arose when their comments were made public, and their remarks are completely unacceptable in our society.
I would suggest that the real villain is the one who sent the material to the world at large, thereby causing the hysteria that has resulted. Now the students must be punished, but let us hope they will not be destroyed. They hardly deserve that.
Bruce Ross, DDS, Toronto
I would suggest that the real devil here is Facebook. Things we may say or think in private or in confidence invariably become public in this forum, and the public-private boundary appears not to exist for these students. In other words, the "filter was off." (This does not excuse their behaviour.)
David Holmgren, Calgary
I have attended universities in Canada, the United States and Mexico, but it was only in Canada that I experienced trends and behaviours characteristic of sexism, concerns that I brought directly to the administration and that largely went unanswered.
I hope the violent and sexist comments published by the male dental students prompt a national debate about why a country as progressive as Canada is so permissive toward sexism.
Daphne Morrison, Mexico City
Letter-writer Gillian Tremblay postulates a "cringing agony" for the student who must apologize to his mother. I would think that many a mother might also question how that son, from his home experience, could possibly exhibit such hostile behaviour to women and girls.
Is it time that women, the mothers of the world, look more seriously at our own contribution to a culture that accepts and tolerates male hostility and violence to the extent that it does?
Lorine Besel, Montreal
I teach at a university; this is no longer just Dalhousie's problem. Universities are responsible not just for course materials but for forming professional behaviours while preparing students for professional life.
Eric Jelinski, Barrie, Ont.
To believe that a joke is conclusive evidence of bias or malfeasance displays an ignorance for how we relate to each other. Joke-telling is often meant to be private, because there's almost always an intimate feature that enables you to leverage inappropriateness and some benign animosity sprinkled with a healthy dose of exaggeration to make it funny. Robin Williams died last year, and we all mourned a comic genius who said plenty of offensive (and hilarious!) things.
Each one of us has enjoyed a joke at the expense of another a person, even of a sub-group of people, at one time or another. So it's patently obvious that telling a joke isn't a reflection of one's actual beliefs. But we don't indict our close friends as bigots when they tell us an off-colour joke. So why the double standard for some young people we've never met?
Pete Reinecke, Ottawa
The idiocy of teenage youth is well documented. However, as Shakespeare might have said, "It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."
Most women can accept that men, as a species, are a combination of happy clown and utter boor. I do not think that the pressures of polite society will have much impact within the next couple of millennia.
Peter Weygang, Bobcaygeon, Ont.
Dental schools and regulatory bodies should assess whether dentistry's current training and curriculum are sufficient to adequately address the issue of gender relations and how they pertains to professional ethics. Graduating dental students with good technical skills but compromised ethical behaviour should be a quality concern for the profession.
Karen Faith, bioethics consultant, Toronto
ON REFLECTION Letters to the editor
Better call IT
Religious zealotry and other forms of tribal prejudice are hardly a new phenomenon in human society. What has changed is the stupendous technological changes that have overtaken us during the past century. Globalization has brought these conflicts in our midst at an unprecedented rate, allowing people and ideas to move rapidly and cheaply across the globe.
We have suddenly unleashed capabilities that yield many benefits but also many hazards. It is like the story of the sorcerer's apprentice who surreptitiously took charge of magical powers he had not been trained to handle. This is what links Dalhousie to Charlie Hebdo (As France Mourns, Manhunt Continues for Shooting Suspects – online, Jan. 8).
Boudewyn van Oort, Victoria
Kindness of strangers
It's very strange indeed that tiny countries like Denmark and Switzerland have almost eliminated poverty, yet Canada, one of the richest and most humane countries in the world, has so many sick and destitute people wandering the frigid streets, dependent on food banks (Canada's Blight – letters, Jan. 8). Depending on the kindness of strangers may have been okay for Blanche DuBois, but it ill becomes a great nation like ours.
William Bedford, Newmarket, Ont.
From wild to mild
Talking to a young Muscovite server at a local coffee shop, I was told that the winters here are much colder because of the wind. Don't you have wind in Moscow, I asked. Yes, she said, but it doesn't make it any colder because Russia doesn't use wind chill factor.
Maybe they have the right idea. Weather reporters could stop mentioning that pesky wind chill factor (Extreme Cold Weather Warning Issued For Most Of Ontario – Jan. 7) and, just like that, our winters would be milder.
Maura Coristine, Toronto
We can't rule it out
Regarding euphemisms for death (Never Simple – letters, Jan. 7), the one that amuses me the most is when a woman says, "I've buried three husbands." I have a vision of her pulling on wellies, going to the shed to get a shovel and heading for the garden.
Anne Barton, Penticton, B.C.