EXCLUSIVE: In a Global News exclusive, eight of the Dalhousie dentistry students involved in the “Gentlemen’s Club” Facebook scandal speak out.
HALIFAX — It’s been five months since a Facebook group for men enrolled in Dalhousie University’s dentistry school was discovered to contain misogynistic and homophobic posts, written about female classmates and women in general.
The controversy over the once private social media group, called the “Class of DDS 2015 Gentlemen” led to calls for expulsion and allegations the men involved were a part of a secret rape club.
But, rather than facing punitive consequences, the young men and women involved chose to participate in a restorative process — agreeing to remain silent until it was all over.
In the dentistry class of 38 students, eight of the 29 involved in the restorative justice process (five of the 13 men and three of the 16 women) spoke exclusively with Global News Senior Investigator Correspondent Jennifer Tryon. Global News agreed to conceal their identities.
“As embarrassing as it is to say we felt like we didn’t have to own up, we didn’t feel like the gravity of our words didn’t have any weight because it was private conversation in our view,” one of so-called Gentleman’s Club members, told Tryon.
“There was a definitely a disconnect between what we said and how we actually feel,” male student #1 said.
The Facebook group started in the first few weeks of the 2011 school year, with a poll on who in the class the members would like to marry, but devolved into discussions of who you would rather have “hate” sex with.
“You can’t say this about me because no one gets to say this about me,” one of the female dentistry students told Global News.
“You are close to these people, so you’re disappointed that they could say something like that,” female student #1 said.
What offended the women wasn’t what made the headlines. Instead, it was being called “honey traps” and being accused of using their sexuality to get better grades.
“We knew that they’d never say it to our face,” female student #2 said. “We wanted to make sure that they knew they should never say it — ever.”
Police in Halifax couldn’t find evidence of a crime being committed, so the university let the women choose how they wanted to deal with it. They chose restorative justice.
Nova Scotia is internationally recognized for its Youth Restorative Justice Act and it’s even making strides in adult criminal cases.
The idea is that perpetrators, victims and the people around them all come together to discover what and why something happened and how to fix it.
“We wanted a shot at least of graduating alongside 13 much more thoughtful [men],” said female student #3 — rather than expelling “13 angry men.”
“It allowed the men and the women to tell both sides of the story and allowed us to unearth what really happened, as well as some of the systemic issues that were underlying,” said male student #2.
But, there was pressure on Dalhousie University that this wasn’t enough of a punishment and that justice wasn’t being served. Many people thought the men were getting off easy.
Restorative justice expert and Dalhousie Law professor Jennifer Llewellyn facilitated the process.
She said the school “did not throw them in a room and make them talk and hug and make up.
“These Facebook posts, that they thought were just a post, were actually connected to ways in which they had been relating in the dental program, or the ways in which they were thinking about their place in the profession, in really significant ways.
In a statement, the university acknowledged things will change.
“Punitive measures such as expulsion do not change attitudes or positively influence future behaviour,” read a statement from Dean of Dentistry Thomas Boran. “We are determined not to continue to operate under the premise of ‘business as usual.”
But while the repair work was being done, there were months of damaging headlines, rallies and protests. There were also threats the students would be exposed if the university didn’t identify and expel the men involved.
“We felt like there was a huge war going on, with the university and the media, and that was a huge amount of unexpected guilt and pressure,” male student #3 said.
“But, we weren’t the ones who made that lie. We were just the ones who had to deal with it.”
Some of the men admitted to feeling suicidal at times.
“We’ve been called everything in the books,” male student #4 said. “A week beforehand, we would have been seen as upstanding, great citizens and a week later, a day later, we’re the absolute worst people in society.”
A number of the men have missed employment opportunities and fellowships or have been passed over for graduate studies.
But, the statement from the university says the men’s behaviour has been successfully remediated and all of them will be able to graduate.
This will likely be met with criticism and a second investigation, by a university appointed task force, who will release its findings on the scandal at the end of June.
“What we’ve learned is that saying you’re sorry is easy, but being sorry is much more difficult and requires a lasting commitment to doing better and changing things,” said male student #5.
But, it’s these kinds of lessons the 29 dental students say they’ll now carry forward — not just to their profession but in life.
Dalhousie University released its final report Friday morning.
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