HALIFAX – Dalhousie University has postponed exams at its dentistry school and launched an investigation after sexually violent comments were posted on a social media site about female students at the Halifax dental school.
University president Richard Florizone said Tuesday that the school has a responsibility to ensure it is free of harassment and it is looking at a range of options to deal with the allegations.
“People are deeply disappointed and concerned,” he said following a meeting with deans at the school. “People find the language and the conversation entirely unacceptable.”
The school said the comments were reportedly shared on a Facebook page, which has since been taken down. He said a complaint was brought to his attention by a student within the past week and it was being dealt with under the school’s harassment policy, but Florizone said he became more involved when more information became public Monday.
Florizone said the school has postponed remaining fourth-year exams in the faculty of dentistry and will reschedule them in January, citing anxiety among students that has been caused by the Facebook page.
The university said it is talking to both those who were involved in creating the page and the women who were featured on it. But Florizone said it wasn’t yet clear what consequences might be for the dentistry students who created it.
In its students’ code of conduct, penalties for violating set behavioural expectations range from a warning to a suspension or expulsion.
An online petition is calling for the students involved in the now shut down Facebook page to be expelled. At time of publishing more than 1,100 people signed the petition.
Jackie Stevens of the Avalon Sexual Assault Centre in Halifax said the postings were particularly disturbing because they involved
male students degrading their female peers. “They’re specifically targeting certain women and they’re talking about inciting sexualized violence and degradation on specific women,” she said.
“They’re using their entitlement and prestige and their positions as dentists, they’re exploiting that.”
She called on Dalhousie to take the incident seriously and look at the safety of students in the program while trying to increase the respect of women in the faculty.
“It’s not enough to just say we’re going to give them sensitivity training,” she said. “They need to look at some of these broader issues of concern.”
Florizone said the school was still gathering information and determining how to respond.
“My mind is sort of at root causes, which is why are people saying the things they’re saying?” he said. “What is it about the environment that seems to be fostering this?”
The incident comes a year after it was revealed that students at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax participated in a chant that glorified non-consensual sex with underage girls.
Prof. Wayne MacKay led a three-month study into campus-based sexual violence at the school after a video surfaced showing student leaders singing a chant about underage sex to about 400 new students at an event during orientation week.
– With a file from Marieke Walsh