Constance Backhouse, the chair of Dalhousie University's task force on misogyny, sexism and homophobia in the Faculty of Dentistry, spoke to CBC about her thoughts on the scandal that has rocked the university.
Backhouse wrote the first book on sexual harassment ever written in Canada, in 1979. It marked the beginning of a career dedicated to research and writing in gender equality, human rights and racism.
Constance Backhouse is a professor of law at the University of Ottawa.
Dalhousie University president Richard Florizone established a task force after 13 men belonging to the dentistry school posted to Facebook sexist and degrading remarks about their female classmates.
Backhouse told the CBC, when people in her line of work hear stories like this, they "sit up and take notice and they wonder ... will this be an opportunity to move forward or whether the kind of defensiveness that often happens will move us backwards."
Backhouse was not surprised by the news of the scandal on campus, which she described as "deeply troubling, upsetting, offensive." But she says this is not unique to Dalhousie University.
Dalhousie dentisry Facebook scandal is 'deeply troubling, upsetting, offensive.' - Constance Backhouse
"This is not massively different from the kinds of experiences we are having on other campuses and indeed in our culture generally."
She says "equality on the basis of gender, gay and lesbian identity, disability, race — all of these issues are embedded in our history, in our culture and our current day society. And rooting them out and trying to move forward on an equality plane is a big task."
Backhouse's task force will endeavour to determine whether misogyny, sexism and homophobia in the school of Dentistry is systemic.
"We're not charged with the individual analysis, we're charged with determining whether there's a wider problem," she says.
To that end, Dalhousie University will provide the task force with documents related to the university's policies, standards and practices.
The task force will also "interview people who wish to give us information and recommendations and advice."
The task force will take submissions by email and in writing from anyone who wants to contribute, including Dalhousie University staff, students, faculty, alumni, and the public.
"We are interested in anyone's ideas who wishes to communicate with us what they think will help here. ... We are interested in all perspectives."
All interviews are voluntary.She hopes that people of diverse views will "feel comfortable talking with us."
The task force is currently in its beginning stages, collecting documents. They plan to begin meeting in person with people who wish to come forward by the end of February.
The task force must have its report delivered to Dalhousie University by June 30. The reports will be made public.