Education

Dalhousie should punish its ‘gentlemen’ dental students

Photo: Omar Bárcena

Thirteen male Dalhousie University dentistry students, members of the now infamous and least appropriately named of all groups, the Gentleman’s Club, will be attending separate classes from their classmates for their final semester. News of the decision broke this past Friday.

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While some have hailed the decision to separate the offending students from the rest of their class as vindication for the victims, others (myself included) feel that the punishment is not nearly harsh enough to fit the crime.

What’s next, a private tutor? I don’t know about you, but a low student-teacher ratio and a small class size were perks, not punishment, back when I was in university.

I’m aware that a third-party task force is currently looking at the environment in the dental faculty, and I can empathize with and understand that young people occasionally make stupid decisions, but in this post-Ghomeshi era, I’m way past the point of excusing this behaviour. We need to stop laughing away and downplaying misogyny and the institutionalized debasement of women. I’m less than satisfied with Dalhousie’s measured and dawdling reaction and want to see more done.

I don’t understand why these 13 students have not been named and why their privacy has been protected. I’m not only angry on behalf of their female classmates whose names were exposed and had to endure this unnecessary and harmful distraction while in their graduating year, but also for all the male students who had nothing to do with that group. Because the school refuses to release the names of the guilty, they will now have to live under a cloud of suspicion. How is that fair to them?

Dental assistants (overwhelmingly female) deserve to decide whether they want to work for a doctor who has immediate access to sedatives and “jokes” about using them to render a woman unconscious.

People should know who they are. Dental assistants (overwhelmingly female) deserve to decide whether they want to work for a doctor who has immediate access to sedatives and “jokes” about using them to render a woman unconscious. Female clients deserve to decide for themselves whether they want to be in a chair, vulnerable, potentially under anesthesia and with the doctor’s face and hands inches from their bodies. Every provincial licensing body in the country deserves to decide whether they want to accept them or not.

This isn’t vengeance, mob justice, a witch hunt, or an infringement on people’s freedom of expression (as some have laughably alleged). Neither is it “dental hysteria” as the Globe and Mail’s rape culture apologist, Margaret Wente, has described it. (Funny how the word “hysteria” is always used when women have grievances and concerns, but never when a man complains.)

The graduating class of 47 students has 21 women and 26 men. From those 26 men, a whopping 13 were members of a group that flippantly discussed the use of chloroform to drug female classmates into submission and which of them they’d want to “hate fuck.”

These men joking about using sedatives on women will have daily and legal access to such drugs after graduation.

These men joking about using sedatives on women will have daily and legal access to such drugs after graduation.

The Dalhousie School of Dentistry Code of Conduct exists for a reason. The profession of dentistry is regulated for a reason. Public trust when doctors are involved is vital. I want to see regulatory bodies doing their jobs and taking them seriously. If this incident had happened eight months from now, these men would not be dealing with their university; they would be dealing with their regulatory bodies. Why the leniency now? Because school isn’t the real world, you say?

Well guess what? It is. Sixteen-year-old boys who don’t get reprimanded and punished for their misogynistic behaviour grow up to be 23-year-old adult males who think nothing of continuing along the same lines. They then become 45-year-old men who teach their sons to behave the same way.

At what point do we start taking this type of behaviour seriously and refuse to laugh it off? At what point do we recognize that the language people use and the narrative they endorse through the normalization of violence is indicative of a larger culture that is okay with denigrating women and mistreating them? How far apart are the point when you can joke about rape and the point when you convince yourself that it’s okay if you can get away with it?

It looks like the first rule of Rape Club is “Don’t talk about Rape Club.” These men thought it was okay to say these things, as long as no one else saw their hateful words. These guys, who are not boys, but mere months away from graduating, thought it was innocuous fun as long as it stayed “locker room talk” away from the prying eyes of female classmates who were the unaware targets of their misogyny.

To those who argue that these “jokes” were most likely said in jest and that no harm was intended, studies have shown that men who are comfortable admitting “their intentions to rape” display a wide range of outwardly hostile attitudes towards women and a set of cultural stereotypes of women as objects and men as aggressors that feeds into hyper-masculinity. Callous sexual attitudes are what permit violence against women in this world. It’s the shrugging of shoulders, the “boys will be boys” narrative, the “but they’re good guys who made one bad decision” excuses that allow for the perpetuation of misogyny and rape culture in this world. And it needs to be dealt with swiftly and harshly.

I’m not advocating as some have for the men to be deprived of a degree. I think they should be allowed to graduate (although I think many would be perfectly comfortable with their graduation being delayed by a semester), and they should be ordered to take sensitivity courses and perhaps be exposed to the real horrors and trauma of rape by being made to speak to any survivors who would be willing to educate them. It’s not unreasonable to demand consequences for such damaging and unprofessional behaviour.

After all, as future dentists they should know better than anyone that disease allowed to fester must eventually be extracted so as not to spread.

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