May 22, 2015 8:58 am
Updated: May 22, 2015 7:20 pm

Dalhousie report finds ‘inappropriate relationships’ existed at dentistry school

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WATCH ABOVE: There are big changes coming to Dalhousie’s school of dentistry following a new report. Jennifer Tryon has the story.

HALIFAX – The Dalhousie Dentistry School’s standards for professionalism were “inconsistent,” there were “rumours of favoritism” and that “inappropriate relationships abounded,” according to a new report obtained by Global News.

The report outlines the Restorative Justice process used by the university in the wake of the controversy caused by the once private social media group, called the “Class of DDS 2015 Gentleman.”

The report also covers the school’s investigation and the actions taken by the students after derogatory and offensive comments were made on Facebook.

WATCH: Dalhousie University president Richard Florizone said Friday that the restorative justice process has been a success.

Story continues below

“The relationships we had as a class were obviously not what they needed to be to allow this to take place,” one woman said.

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.

READ MORE: Dalhousie suspends 13 dentistry students following Facebook comments

EXCLUSIVE: In a Global News exclusive, eight of the Dalhousie dentistry students involved in the “Gentlemen’s Club” Facebook scandal speak out.

“We’ve held up a mirror to society including ourselves and we didn’t like what we’ve seen,” one of the men said.

Both the men and the women told Global News their choice to participate in restorative justice was to help facilitate a change to an overarching culture of sexism they saw both in their program and all around them. The students recounted how for years within the faculty of dentistry the adult men and women were referred to as “boys and girls.”

The report says students want to see five key changes within the School of Dentistry and beyond:

  1. Community Building – finding better and more supportive ways to build connections between and among students, faculty and staff
  2. Inclusion and Equality – supporting diversity and confronting accepted divisions along lines of gender, race, culture and religion 
  • Professionalism and Ethics – adapting a more integrated and principle-based approach to both personal and professional integrity with respect to patient care and safety
  1. Curriculum and Program Structure – addressing factors within the program and clinic structure that contribute to a competitive and stressful environment
  2. Reporting Processes and Conflict Resolution – improving communication and transparency in order to create safer spaces to address and resolve issues

“It’s about being better,” said one of the male Facebook posters. “It’s about a commitment to do better in the future and about learning.”

READ MORE: Dalhousie students kicked out of residence over content posted on social media

“This is a very widespread culture,” said one of the women. “It’s something that everyone says ‘well we can’t change it’, or you think it’s just normal and it’s never going to change. But we’ve actually seen this year, that when you actually talk about it and unearthing and seeing what’s underlying it that people do start changing their attitudes.”

The report revealed the existence of a small room the university’s dentistry building known as “the Cavity”, where the walls were covered with graffiti, including some that was characterized as “misogynistic, racist, sexist and homophobic.”

Some students and faculty told investigators that signing the wall was a rite of passage and tradition for the students.

The school administration changed the locks on the room to preserve it for the review, and later had the walls painted over.

At a news conference on Friday, university president Richard Florizone confirmed the men involved have met the required professional standards and will be eligible to graduate pending the completion of their clinical requirements.

WATCH: Florizone says previously suspended students have been given a chance to graduate.

He said the participants in the restorative justice process spent 1,500 hours together working on various things including studying the social culture and climate in the dentistry faculty.

He also said the university does not want to sweep the scandal under the rug, and that an upcoming independent review will help the school move forward.

The faculty of Dentistry and the University has committed to a shift in thinking. In a statement the School of Dentistry says the Restorative Justice Process has “held up a mirror forcing us to look more deeply at aspects of our own culture and climate. We see clearly and more fully how broader societal norms such as sexism, homophobia, and racism are reflected within our Faculty. These have been difficult issues to face and are deeply troubling. However, we are determined not to continue to operate under the premise of ‘business as usual’.”

Professor Jennifer Llewellyn facilitated the restorative process and says “there’s been significant change in all of the parties that participated in restorative justice.”

The report indicates all of the men who participated in the process have “successfully remediated their behaviour.”

“I think it takes an incredible amount of human capacity, maybe courage, maybe even a bit of audacity, to see that the hero is in us being able to recognize the flaws and being able to work on them,” said Llewellyn.

She said Friday the media and public attention was overwhelming at times and even harmful. She said the participants in the restorative justice process understood the public’s desire to know what happened, and wanted the report made public to dispel any misinformation.

The provincial licensing bodies will decide whether any of the men will be granted licence to practice dentistry.

“The priority in adjudicating any application for licensure will be to make a decision that protects the public interest,” according to Dr. Tom Raddall, the chair of the Provincial Dental Board of Nova Scotia.

Ontario’s licensing body says it has no plan to prevent any of the students from practicing and that everyone will be considered on professional merit.

The men in the group say the restorative process has changed them. One of the men said on Facebook, “We know we have to take accountability for our words and our actions. Doesn’t matter if it’s in a clinical setting or private setting.  You’re always accountable whether you’re using social media or not.  Your actions have consequences and that’s something we understand now.”

The students plan to be honest with their patients, should their diploma on their office wall and wonder if they were part of the DDS2015 Gentleman’s Club.

“We’ve got to be honest with them,” said one of the men. “Tell them what we’ve done, tell them our beliefs and what we want to do, and just be respectful of them and whatever decision it leads them to make.”

Read the Global News live blog recap below: 

– With files from Marieke Walsh, Global News

© 2015 Shaw Media

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