In the past month since the Dalhousie University incident in the dentistry program was reported, a nationwide collective anger has spread. The school has been met with demands by people from across Canada for the members of the Facebook group “Class of DDS 2015 Gentlemen” to be expelled and their names released. Doing so would make becoming licensed dentists difficult.
The sensationalism surrounding the misogynistic comments posted by these male students has turned a story about cyber-bullying into something that looks more like a criminal trial. But what the male dentistry students are accused of is not criminal, so it’s time we stop treating them as such and stop demanding the release of their names.
Fifty thousand people have petitioned for the 13 male students to be expelled. The hacker group Anonymous has threatened to release the men’s names and the dental regulatory boards in Nova Scotia, British Columbia, Ontario and Alberta said they’ll take extra steps when evaluating dental students from that year at Dalhousie when they apply for licences.
The Royal College of Dental Surgeons of Ontario even requested release of the names of the offending male students.
Dalhousie rightfully refused.
The school has privacy acts to protect student identities and information, much like Ryerson’s Information Protection and Access Policy, which protects the release of information that “could reasonably be expected to result in harm to the university, an identifiable individual, or a third party.”
Releasing the identities of the 13 “Class of DDS 2015 Gentlemen” would harm their careers tremendously. They may not be granted credentials to practise and a simple Google search would scare away prospective employers and patients.
While criminals have certain protection against discrimination in the workplace and hiring procedures, these students would not have any protection against refused hiring because they aren’t accused or convicted of any crimes.
While their actions were not a crime, there were a few specific posts that prompted media and public outrage.
One post included a poll of which female students with whom they’d like to have “hate sex.” Another student joked about using chloroform, an anesthetic that has been used by dentists, on the women.
These posts in the group date back to 2011. Only a handful of the posts were headline-grabbing, but all 13 members of the group are being held accountable for the posts made by a few individuals.
Does simply being a member of a Facebook group with inappropriate comments make one guilty or an innocent bystander?
At Ryerson, you’d be guilty under the Student Code of Non-Academic Conduct.
Section C.11 about harassment says Ryerson’s Discrimination and Harassment Prevention Policy is modelled on the Ontario Human Rights Code. It entrusts educators to provide quick response procedures and programs to deal with complaints.
The policy protects members of the Ryerson community from discrimination and harassment. It says that “jokes, comments or email messages” that demean or belittle persons based on sex or gender is harassment. Penalties range from educational programs and mandated apologies to suspension or expulsion. Although the policies provide examples of what a specific act would deserve.
While the policy doesn’t specify whether Facebook groups or other unaffiliated and non-monitored forums that compose Ryerson’s “cyber campus” are covered under the jurisdiction, it says that “behaviours which constitute discrimination and harassment which impact the work and/or study environment of a member of the Ryerson University community are covered by the policy whether or not they occur during normal working/school hours.”
For students, this means that any emails, Facebook messages, Instagram comments or Tinder messages that are deemed harassment and infringe on another student’s ability to learn are violations of Ryerson’s student code and potential grounds for suspension or expulsion.
The Dalhousie “gentlemen” may have thought that because their comments were in a private, non-university sanctioned, Facebook group that they were “off-campus.” But it’s who’s affected, not where it’s said, that determines a violation of student conduct codes.
Ryerson’s “online” campus is wherever its students connect.
Although we may be outraged at what some of the men posted, we must remember to keep our apples with our apples. These men aren’t criminals.
After reviewing 50 pages of screenshots from the group, the Halifax Regional Police investigation concluded that what was posted — while offensive — was not against the law. These men didn’t carry through with the actions written about and no accusations of sexual assault have surfaced.
What these men are accused of is only a violation of Dalhousie’s code of student conduct, which prohibits sexual and gender-based harassment.
Jokes that were once made casually at the campus pub or locker-room are now immortalized online and can easily be made public.
But that doesn’t mean that possible repercussions to come from what we do online should be influenced by the public.
It may seem overbearing to have a school get involved with what we do online — like they are sticking their fingers into the cookie jar of our private lives — but it’s a school matter and should be handled as such.
We, as the public, shouldn’t treat this Dalhousie incident like campus rape and sex crime cases.
While it was both morally and socially wrong, they did nothing criminal and it’s time for us to back off.
Listen below to hear what Ryerson has to say about the university’s online harassment policies:
This story was first published in The Ryersonian, a weekly newspaper produced by the Ryerson School of Journalism, on Jan. 21, 2015.