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Environmental justice, gender justice and Dalhousie's leadership

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Over the course of the past academic year, Dalhousie University's President and Board of Governors have made myriad decisions, large and small, that have demonstrated an unwillingness to prioritize the needs of students. It is not the first year that this has happened. This year, however, some of these decisions have made national headlines. 


In November 2014, while people watched from across Canada, Dalhousie’s Board of Governors voted against divesting university endowment holdings in fossil fuel companies. The board overlooked hundreds of hours of student and faculty research into divestment, limited students’ ability to voice their concerns about the university’s financial direction, and even voted against doing any future research into divestment. Administrators and board members did not even consider arguments about the moral dimensions of fossil fuel divestment. Why? Because, as Dalhousie president Dr. Richard Florizone said during the meeting, the board did not want to risk losing donations from fossil fuel companies to university research programs.

In refusing to divest from fossil fuels, Dalhousie's board ignored the demands of more than 1,800 individual students, more than 120 individual members of faculty, the Dalhousie Student Union, and the Dalhousie Faculty Association.


In December 2014, posts from a Facebook group of Dalhousie’s ''DDS 2015 Gentlemen'' were made public. The posts were written by a group of male dentistry students having homo-antagonistic, trans-antagonistic, and misogynistic conversations about their colleagues. These conversations included comments about chloroforming peers and patients before sexual assaulting them. 

Dalhousie did not expel any of these students, opting instead to protect their names, their careers, and their tuition dollars through an in-house ''restorative justice process.'' This process placed undue burdens on those most harmed by the group’s misogyny, and it also  ignored the wishes of some of the students targeted who did not want to go through restorative justice. Most importantly, Dalhousie has no ombudsperson and no anonymous reporting process, so there are very few options for anyone who wishes to come forward and disclose harassment or assault at the university. 

The ''DDS Gentlemen'' were not an isolated group. Similar problems are all too familiar to many students on campus. For example, Dal also expelled no one, quietly levying minimal consequences after other instances of sexual harassment and assault in Howe Hall earlier this year.

In all of their emergency board meetings, crisis communications hires, and media conferences, administrators and board members have systematically shut out the voices of those at the South House Sexual and Gender Resource Centre, and Avalon Sexual Assault Centre. The administration operated with a tight communications strategy, ignoring the hundreds of faculty and students on campus and the thousands of people around the world who were all calling for Dalhousie to treat the problem of misogyny with the gravity that victims and survivors deserve.

Instead, Dalhousie’s administrators have continued to treat misogyny on campus as if it is a publicity and communications nuisance rather than a widespread, pervasive problem causing countless harms to numerous members of the Dalhousie community.

The Question of Leadership:

In matters of gender justice and environmental justice, I see markedly little leadership coming from President Richard Florizone or from Dalhousie’s Board of Governors.

This is disheartening -- rage inducing, even -- but this is not to say that there is no leadership to be found at Dalhousie.

I see leadership coming from the work of the students who keep coming to school after they have received rape threats and death threats; after they have experienced casual and institutionalized racism; after they face myriad aggressions and micro-aggressions. I also see leadership coming from of those who do not or cannot return to their studies; from those who take time to cope with the brutalities they have witnessed; from those who find other ways to survive.

I see leadership coming from students and staff of all genders who work with Avalon Sexual Assault Centre and South House Gender and Sexual Resource Centre. I see leadership coming from every Dalhousie student and community member who has the courage to access the services of those under-funded, under-supported organizations. I see leadership in community marches against misogyny and in honest conversations about the true meaning of restorative justice. 

I see leadership coming from the students who work part-time jobs, full-time jobs, and overnight shifts to pay for their degrees. I see leadership coming from students with disabilities who must take extra time to complete their studies, and who carry on, bearing visible and invisible burdens. I see leadership, yes, in the lives of the students who leave university to cope with their needs, their bodies, their minds, and their relationships—all of which are affected by debt and financial stress.

I see leadership coming from tenured faculty members who recognize the intergenerational injustices around them, and who use their positions to speak out on behalf of their precariously employed colleagues who cannot. I see leadership coming from graduate students, adjunct faculty members, contract academic faculty, sessional instructors, teaching assistants, and research assistants who are demanding livable wages and working conditions. I see leadership in their decisions to tell their students about their struggles, and I see leadership, too, in their choices to be silent.

I see leadership coming from all who work to shed light on the corporatization of the university and the expansion of administrative apparata. I see leadership coming from those who are working to diminish corporate influence on campus for the sake of institutional integrity, as well as from those who are doing what they can to make room for genuinely diverse, sustainable opportunities for all who work and study at Dal. 

I see leadership coming from indigenous resistance to fossil fuel extraction, emissions, and infrastructure; in calls from these communities for universities to do the work of fossil fuel divestment in solidarity. I leadership coming from First Nations legal and political struggles that have been at the core of every major environmental victory in Canada over the last four decades. 

I see leadership coming from those working to create links between on-campus and off-campus environmental justice efforts. I see strength and leadership in the students, staff, faculty, and community members at Dalhousie who continue to call for divestment, placing the needs of future generations above the privileges of well-connected donors.

If we want a just, sustainable Dalhousie, we do not have time to plan a meeting to plan a committee to plan a meeting to plan a committee to plan a meeting to plan a committee. We must listen to the voices of those who are calling attention to injustices within the university, and we must act alongside those who are already leading.



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