HALIFAX — Male dentistry students at Dalhousie University who participated in a Facebook page that contained sexually violent content about female classmates have expressed remorse in an open letter to the community.
The university in Halifax posted a joint statement dated Sunday by 29 members of the fourth-year dentistry class on its website, with the unidentified students who wrote what is described as an open letter saying they wanted to comment before an academic standards committee rules on what discipline will be applied.
The members of the class who agreed to the statement are participating in a restorative justice process the university started after the Facebook site’s contents became public.
The letter says 12 male students who participated in the Facebook site believe their actions were “hurtful, painful and wrong,” and that they harmed their classmates, patients, the university, their profession and the public.
“Through the restorative justice process we are doing the work required to be sorry — to confront the harms we have caused, to accept our responsibility, to figure out what is needed of us to make things right, and to gain the knowledge, skills and capacities to be trusted health-care professionals,” the men say in the letter.
“The need for change in ourselves became very clear through deep reflection on our failures and harmful actions.”
According to the CBC, members of the Facebook group voted on which woman they’d like to have “hate” sex with and joked about using chloroform on women. The CBC said in another post, a woman is shown in a bikini with a caption that says, “Bang until stress is relieved or unconscious (girl).”
There are three parts to the letter posted on the university website. One is written by the men in the class, a second section by the women and a third written by all the participants in the restorative justice process.
The response from six women who were the target of the posts on Facebook says what was said was harmful and reflected “a broader culture” within the university and society.
But the six women say they don’t agree with a university decision to segregate the men from their classmates and keep them out of clinical practice.
That decision fragmented and alienated the class at a time when they were particularly in need of support from their classmates, the women say, adding that they feel safe with the 12 members of the Facebook group.
“Many have asserted that all women feel unsafe, but this is not the case for us — we feel safe with the members of the Facebook group involved in this restorative process,” the women say in the letter.
They describe themselves as strong and professional women who are capable of speaking for themselves in the case.
“The restorative process has provided a very important space for us to engage safely and respectfully with our colleagues and others to convey our perspectives and needs.”
The men say they have participated in a series of workshops to consider what they wrote and how to repair the damage since the restorative justice process started in December.
They have met at least once a week as a group with the organizers of the restorative justice process and have also had individual meetings to consider what actions would help make amends, they wrote. The sessions have included educational workshops from experts in sexualized violence, psychology and counselling, law and human rights, religion and conflict resolution.
The men say they have also participated in discussions on misogyny.
Text of statement issued by members of a dentistry class at Dalhousie University
Below is the full-text of an open statement from the participants in Dalhousie University’s restorative justice process related to Facebook group posts made about females members of the fourth-year dentistry class at the school:
We, the 29 members of the class of DDS2015 participating in the restorative justice process, offer this public update to share some information about the process and our experience so far. This statement reflects our collective experience and sentiments. It is divided in order to offer some reflections directly from the members of the Facebook group engaged in our process, from the directly impacted women within the restorative justice process, and from the entire participant group. Our process includes 12 members of the DDS2015 Facebook group, six women named in the Facebook posts made public, and 11 women and men from the directly affected class of DDS2015.
We are providing this statement at this time because we anticipate an update from the Academic Standards Class Committee (ASCC). The ASCC has been kept informed of the work within the restorative process aimed at remediating behaviour and addressing the harms related to the incident. We want to share some of this information with the broader community and the public so that they are able to understand our perspectives and experience within the process as well.
From the Members of the DDS2015 Facebook Group in the Restorative Justice Process
From the beginning of this process in December we felt incredibly remorseful and took ownership of what we did (individually and collectively). Our conduct as members of the Facebook group was hurtful, painful, and wrong. It has impacted our classmates, friends, families, faculty, staff, patients, the university community, the profession and the public. Our actions have led to significant consequences for us, but also for others. Many of the consequences we have experienced both personally and professionally are a natural result of our actions and we own those consequences. Our actions have also had profound consequences for others that we own with deep regret. We know that our conduct has damaged trust in many important relationships. We know that we must work to earn back this trust. Since December we have been engaged in the intensive and difficult self-reflection and development required to start the process of earning back the trust of our colleagues, families, professors, the university community, the profession and the public. This will take time but we will work each day to model the personal and professional core values to which we are committed and that will guide us now and in the future. We hope one day to regain the trust of those we have harmed and impacted.
Our silence has been interpreted by some as cowardice — as if we are hiding from our responsibilities. It has been very tempting to satisfy calls for us to say we are sorry. Doing so would have made us feel better, but it would have been self-serving if not based upon the hard work necessary to gain the depth of understanding required for meaningful and sincere apology. We are committed to continue to work through the restorative process to develop this understanding. We know much more than saying ‘sorry’ is required. We are doing the hard work to figure out how to truly be sorry. We owe meaningful apologies to those we have impacted most directly first.
Through the process we have had the opportunity to offer some of these apologies already and they have been accepted. We continue to work to be worthy of their acceptance. Only after we have done more of this work would we be ready to offer broader apologies to the community and the public. Through the restorative justice process we are doing the work required to be sorry — to confront the harms we have caused, to accept our responsibility, to figure out what is needed of us to make things right, and to gain the knowledge, skills and capacities to be trusted health-care professionals. This is difficult and time consuming work – and it should be. We are committed to seeing this through. The process has engaged individuals from the faculty, university, the profession and the public. Involvement from these groups will continue and expand as the process moves to further examine the broader circumstances, causes and consequences of this situation. We have already learned much about ourselves, the consequences of our actions, and our contribution to the culture and climate within the faculty and the university. Our work has included: providing detailed accounts of our participation in the Facebook group and events following its discovery as part of the investigation; regular contact with the restorative facilitators since December (at a minimum weekly, in many cases daily); participation in regular and ongoing meetings with facilitators individually, in small groups and with the entire group to explore harms and impacts, accept responsibility and consider what actions are necessary to make amends. Sessions have included educational workshops and training modules supported by experts in the fields of public safety and security, sexualized and gendered violence and trauma, psychology and counselling, law and human rights, religion, and conflict resolution. In addition, we have taken specific in depth educational workshops to better understand misogyny and rape culture and bystander intervention.
We do not know what the outcomes of the process will be because this work is still underway. We know that we cannot go back and undo what has happened, but we are committed to making this experience matter – to contribute to the change that is needed. The need for change in ourselves became very clear through deep reflection on our failures and harmful actions. We also recognize that we have an opportunity and responsibility to contribute to necessary changes in the climate and culture within our faculty, the university community and in the profession we aspire to be a part of one day. We are committed to giving back and making a positive contribution to our communities. We have been given the opportunity, through this restorative justice process, to confront what we have done, the harm it has caused, and to learn what we need to do to become the trusted professionals we want to be. We are very grateful for the commitment of time, expertise and support that has made this possible. We will endeavour to be worthy of this opportunity and to contribute back to the community in equal measure.
From the Women of the Class of DDS2015 involved in the Restorative Justice Process
As women directly impacted by the Facebook posts released to the media, we decided to participate in this restorative justice process as a way to address the harmful conduct revealed by the posts and our experiences of the broader culture they reflect within our faculty, university and society. We respect that everyone who has been directly impacted by this situation deserves equal opportunity to proceed in a way in which they are comfortable. We wish to be accorded the same respect for this justice path we have chosen. We made this choice informed of all of the options available to us and came to our decision independently and without coercion. We have exercised restraint in discussing our perspective in the media but, to be clear, we do not feel that the coverage on social and mainstream media has been representative of our unique or common experiences. Many people (some with good intentions) have spoken about us and in the process often attempted to speak for us in ways that we have experienced as harmful, silencing and re-traumatizing. Our perspective and decision to proceed through this process has often not been honoured or trusted but dismissed or criticized based on the decisions or perspectives of others. We are strong, well-educated professional women with words of our own to explain what we are going through and how we want to proceed. We have chosen individually and collectively to use our words carefully and selectively in public so as not to add fuel to the media fire which has been extremely hurtful to all of us. Some of the political tactics and debates surrounding this situation have made it challenging to proceed with a restorative justice process in the way we wished and these outside factors have caused renewed harms. At times, the volume of public opinion has drowned out our voices on what we need and want in this situation. We feel, for example, that our views were not central to the decision making process to segregate members of our class known to be involved in the Facebook posts. While this decision may have satisfied others’ needs or interests, it has done nothing for us in terms of instilling a sense of safety or respect. Instead, it fragmented and alienated us at a time when we were particularly in need of support from our class community. Many have asserted that all women feel unsafe, but this is not the case for us – we feel safe with the members of the Facebook group involved in this restorative process.
The restorative process has provided a very important space for us to engage safely and respectfully with our colleagues and others to convey our perspectives and needs. The process allows us to be involved in a manner that both respects and values our unique perspectives and the level of commitment and connection we desire. Additionally, it allows us to address underlying systemic and institutional issues influencing the climate and culture in which we live and learn. We want this process to make a significant contribution to bringing about a change in that culture and hope that we will be given the respect, time and space needed to do this work.
From All Participants of the Class of DDS2015 involved in the Restorative Justice Process
We are all committed to working together within the restorative justice process to deal with the specific and broader issues and harms connected to the Facebook group. Through this process we are dealing with the immediate incident at hand while also investigating the contributing factors that got us here as a class, faculty, and university. We hope this letter sheds some light on our process so far, on what we hope to accomplish, and on some of the challenges we have faced. We believe that the education and perspective that we are gaining through our participation in the restorative justice process will allow us to be better health-care providers, colleagues, and representatives of Dalhousie University. We ask, as a group, that our privacy and our right to pursue this restorative process off the public stage be respected. The constant public attention has been harmful and even sometimes threatening to us, our families and friends. We will engage with the broader communities and issues involved through the restorative process, but first need to continue to work to understand and address the immediate harms involved. We hope that through this process our voices and experiences will make significant contributions to the important public discussions about sexism, misogyny, inclusion, and professionalism.