June 29, 2015 5:25 pm
Updated: June 29, 2015 5:26 pm

‘Sexist comments had become normalized and went unnoticed’: Dal task force report

The Dalhousie University dentistry building is seen in Halifax on Jan. 6, 2015. A report into sexist online posts by dentistry students at Dalhousie University says a Facebook page at the centre of the scandal began as a bonding exercise, but turned offensive. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan


WARNING: The following article contains some explicit content

HALIFAX – Deep within the 100-page Dalhousie University task force report are some disturbing findings about the inner workings of the only dental school in the Maritimes.

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The report found faculty behaved inappropriately towards female students, making comments such as “She is hot” or “Not too hard to look at”.

“In some respects, sexist comments had become normalized and went unnoticed,” the report states.

“Students who attempt to call professors to account for inappropriate behaviour are ignored or told they are being unprofessional. There is very little evidence that faculty members are regularly monitored or held accountable for inappropriate behaviour.”

“It’s very disturbing. It’s a professionalized program, which historically has been a bit of a boy’s club,” said Jude Ashburn, the outreach coordinator for South House.

South House is a student resource centre dealing with issues of sexuality and gender.

There was also a revelation in the report – the university admitted that a dentistry faculty member was fired two years ago because of sexual relationships with two female students.

No other details were given.

Suggestive comments made by faculty

The report also found faculty members made crude and offensive comments to staff.

In one stance, a staff member complained that a faculty member said things had changed in the dental school because “You can’t have oral sex with students anymore”. The report states female students had apparently requested not to be supervised by the male faculty member.

Another faculty member told a female junior colleague that “he wouldn’t mind having an affair with her” while another is “widely known for looking at women’s breasts and not their faces”.

“It was disturbing to see that in some instances, that gender-based lateral violence, peer-to-peer violence, is unacceptable,” said Jacqueline Gahagan, a health promotions professor who has been outspoken about how the university handled the dentistry scandal.

“I think this actually provides a very clear illustration of how much more work we have to do to address this ‘women don’t belong here’ notion,” she said.

Little mention of LGBTQ interests

A Facebook page created by some dentistry students brought the issue to light.

The page included homophobic comments, such as how a penis is defined as “the tool used to wean and convert lesbians and virgins into useful, productive members of society.”

There was explicit graffiti in the Cavity, a well known student lounge in the dentistry school, that depicted a sketch of a man bending over and another man approaching him with an exposed penis. The caption reads “Oh (name redacted), I’m ready for you this time.”

Gahagan said she wishes the task force report included more consideration for LGBTQ interests.

“I do think the fact there is gender-based violence, and particularly violence against LGBTQ population on this campus and on most university campuses, to have a little bit more concrete recommendations on how to deal with that,” she said.

“I do think we can do better [by] providing additional resources into the harassment and equity office, additional staffing and resources and perhaps training for individuals.”

Dental school in a “time warp”

The report states the sexist culture within the school had been around for decades. In fact, in the 1980s, university administration had received complaints about faculty showing inappropriate and offensive images in lecture.

“The dental school has been oblivious to changing more, to how respect for women should be expressed in the 21st century and to behaviour that is no longer considered acceptable,” the report reads.

One alumnus likened the dental school to being in a “time warp.”

Moving forward from report

Staff at the South House say the centre is under-resourced to deal with issues of sexism, misogyny, racism and homophobia.

Ashburn is calling on the university to give the centre more support.

“I hope financially Dalhousie starts investing in this and putting resources towards the groups and initiatives that are already doing this work.”

Dalhousie president Richard Florizone said he accepted all the recommendations in the task force report.

“We’ve learned a very painful, a very powerful lesson. I think there’s an opportunity to change the rules of engagement. I think it starts with listening to the study body and hearing what they have to say about potential solutions,” Gahagan said.

Global News reached out to the Dalhousie Student Union for comment on the report but they declined to comment Monday. A spokesperson said the DSU would make a comment Tuesday afternoon in relation to the report.

Gahagan said she is hopeful for the future of the university.

“On the one hand, this is a sign of change. This is a good example that change is here and that’s an inevitable part of any large organization like this. How quickly change will happen, that’s yet to be seen.”



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