Culture of sexism, racism went beyond Dalhousie dentistry faculty: report

Constance Backhouse, a professor at the University of Ottawa who led an investigation into the Dalhousie Dentistry School scandal, sexism, homophobia and misogyny, appears at a news conference in Halifax on Monday, June 29, 2015. The task force says that the university should overhaul its culture and the way it handles complaints of sexism in the aftermath of misogynistic comments posted on Facebook by some male dentistry students. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Morris

A task force called to examine how Dalhousie University dealt with sexually violent Facebook posts by a group of dentistry students uncovered a much deeper culture of bigotry and harassment on the Halifax campus.

“The report acknowledges what students have been saying for years — that misogyny, racism and other forms of bigotry are prevalent on our campuses,” said Michaela Sam, Nova Scotia chairperson for the Canadian Federation of Students.

Dalhousie was thrown into the spotlight last year when it was revealed that 13 male members of the school’s dentistry faculty had posted sexually violent comments about their female classmates on a private Facebook group.

A task force into how the school handled the situation released its report Monday, calling on Dalhousie to overhaul how it deals with complaints of sexual harassment and inequality.

But the report also found the problem goes deeper than the Facebook scandal.

"The culture within the Faculty of Dentistry permits incidents of sexism, misogyny, homophobia and racism," it stated.

Female staff at the school’s dental clinics felt mistreated and intimidated, the report found. They said they were told to put signs on their desks indicating when they were going to the washroom, were subject to sexist jokes and were reprimanded if they spoke up. One staff member told the task force: “I live in terror every day.”

What’s more, the report found this culture extended beyond the Faculty of Dentistry. Staff, students and professors at Dalhousie told the task force they felt mistreated and belittled for their gender, race, religion or sexual orientation.

“We heard about numerous incidents of overt racism: ‘No N----rs Allowed’ and ‘#whitepower’on the walls of washrooms and study rooms in the Killam Library; anti-Muslim messages on campus prayer spaces; angry white students disrupting an African Students’ Association event,” the report said.

“Black faculty  and  staff  told  us  of  racial  harassment  and  discrimination  in employment...Indigenous people said their communities were virtually absent on campus. What we heard suggests an entrenched culture of white privilege.”

The task force found that the only way to tackle these issues is to “focus on systemic change” and “transform the culture" on campus.

Sam agreed and said that culture needs to be addressed at colleges and universities across Nova Scotia. She called on the province to pass Bill 114, an act to improve safety on post-secondary campuses.

“This report needs to be held in tandem with the provincial government’s responsibility and the responsibility of all campuses across Nova Scotia,” Sam said.

“Issues of discrimination and issues of misogyny and sexism and racism and homophobia all are pervasive on each of our campuses and across this province.”

The report also lambasted the university administration for not working more closely with the Dalhousie Student Union and the campus gender and sexuality resource centre, both of which have experience fostering inclusive environments.

Neither the student union nor the centre was immediately available for comment.

"Students are a part of the solution," Sam said, "Not an afterthought."

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