Dal’s dentistry scandal: one more footnote in a seismic social and gender transformation

hal102_20150106240887_highFor me, the most intriguing section of Friday’s 65-page “Report from the Restorative Justice Process at the Dalhousie University Faculty of Dentistry” is the one that documents the evolution of the now-infamous “Class of DDS 2015 Gentlemen” group.

The Facebook group caused a scandal and resulted in the suspension of 13 male students after sexist posts came to light in December.

It was, in fact, only one of three private Facebook spaces — men’s, women’s and  general — students in the Class of 2015 created as they began their studies in September 2011. Initially suggested by a fourth-year student, the idea was to “share information, jokes, homework, and to bond and get to know each other.” (Why those bonding spaces had to be gender-segregated isn’t clear.)

Perhaps not surprisingly, some mixed homework posting with re-posted content, occasionally including “crude quotations from stand-up comedians and popular movies, and decontextualized quotations from instructors or class presentations.” Some students attempted to “‘dentist-ify’ [Internet] content with sexual innuendos reflecting dentistry themes.” “One-upping” one another, they pushed “boundaries in terms of shock value.”

By third year, however, investigators noted the “jovial tone” of the male posts had morphed into something else. The posts became “accusatory, expressing frustration and… distrust of the faculty” as students vied for position in the highly competitive, academically critical Dalhousie Dental Clinic.  One student (gender not identified) compared it to “surviving the Hunger Games.

At this point, gender seems to have become more significant. Some posts reference rumours of “sexually inappropriate relationships” between female students and male faculty, and suggest those students may have gotten “preferential treatment… Frustrations spilled over into other aspects of student life, including… the men’s Facebook group.”

The report highlighted a disconnect. Dentistry’s old boys’ culture had smacked up against the changing social reality of a university that now emphasizes gender diversity in its admissions process. Investigators learned of a private lounge where students scrawled graffiti — since painted over — of not only the “I-was-here” variety but also of sexist and homophobic remarks. Dalhousie also had a tradition of alcohol-fuelled, student-organized roasts featuring demeaning jokes about fellow students and faculty.

What happened in the School of Dentistry appears to be about much more than simple bad behaviour. Instead, it’s yet another footnote in the ongoing generational and seismic social transformation in relations between men and women.

Unfortunately, it probably isn’t the last.

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