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Report sheds light on Dalhousie Dentistry crisis

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Photo: Tom Flemming/flickr

For 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.

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-designated 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 also highlighted a disconnect. Dentistry's old boys' professional social culture -- there was a private lounge where students scrawled not only I-was-here graffiti but also sexist and homophobic remarks, and there were alcohol-fuelled, student-organized roasts featuring demeaning jokes about fellow students and faculty -- had smacked up against changing social reality: "a longstanding practice within the Faculty of Dentistry to pay close attention to reflecting gender diversity in program admissions."

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.

This article first appeared in Stephen Kimber's Halifax Metro column.

Photo: Tom Flemming/flickr

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