Nova Scotia

Dalhousie dentistry dean updates progress after Facebook misogyny task force

The dean of Dalhousie University's faculty of dentistry appeared before the school's senate on Monday to provide an update on changes prescribed by an external task force on misogyny, sexism and homophobia.

Tom Boran briefs university senate on what's been done so far

Dalhousie University senators heard an update from the dean of dentistry Monday on efforts to implement recommendations from a task force that looked into misogyny, sexism and homophobia. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

The dean of Dalhousie University's faculty of dentistry appeared before the school's senate on Monday to provide an update on changes prescribed by an external task force on misogyny, sexism and homophobia.

The task force, chaired by Constance Backhouse of the University of Ottawa, made 39 recommendations after 13 male dentistry students were suspended, and later reinstated, for being part of a Facebook group that made abusive comments toward female classmates and patients.

"It is a work in progress, given the fact this is end of September and we received the report the end of June," Tom Boran, dean of dentistry, told university senators.

Boran said he was "pretty darn sure" the dentistry school could implement all 17 recommendations aimed specifically at the faculty.

And to senators who questioned whether the dental school is moving quickly enough, Boran said: "We are doing our best. We're enthusiastic about it, we're committed to it and we are going to continue to progress."

The dean said for the first time, orientation events for first year and returning dental students included dental hygiene students and international students in the qualifying year program. 

This year's orientation included some alcohol-free events and a half-day guided workshop on professionalism — particularly the use of social media such as Twitter and Facebook — for incoming first year students.

"I was ecstatic at the level of maturity in those conversations," Boran said. "How they came to a consensus as to what was acceptable and what wasn't."

The dental school has hired a new professor to deal with a problem described by both fourth-year students and the task force as contributing to tensions between men and women. The issue is fair access to a limited supply of patients in the dental clinic needed to complete graduation requirements. 

Conflict resolution

Groups of students have been paired with a specific faculty advisor to help them navigate and complete their clinical requirements.

There's also "conflict resolution" workshops for senior administrators and managers, and the dental school is working to set up a committee to promote diversity and inclusion.

Despite these actions, there's plenty that remains to be done and none of the task force's 17 dentistry school recommendations have been fully implemented. 

Top of the list is an action plan to implement those recommendations. The senate will receive an update on Jan. 25 and again on April 25.

Other recommendations

Other recommendations to be implemented include: improving and clarifying the system to make a complaint about behaviour at the school or the dental clinic, reducing the dental school's isolation from other faculties by making more cross-appointments, and finding ways to celebrate female and LGBT dentists as role models.

Meanwhile, Dalhousie University as a whole has also been tasked with implementing about 20 task force recommendations.

Brian Leadbetter, a spokesperson for the university, says Dalhousie has not yet decided whether to hire a full-time ombudsman to respond to student complaints.  

The university is now in the final stages of hiring an executive director to improve diversity and inclusion for 19,000 students and faculty on campus.

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