Nova Scotia

Former Dalhousie student leader hopes dentistry scandal report leads to action

Jacqueline Skiptunis has travelled half way around the world to Russia, but the issue of the Dalhousie University dentistry Facebook scandal still crops up.

Jacqueline Skiptunis says advocating for female dentistry students was 'definitely stressful'

Jacqueline Skiptunis is a former vice president at the Dalhousie Student Union, but is now on a student exchange in Russia. (CBC)

Jacqueline Skiptunis has travelled halfway around the world to Russia, but the issue of the Dalhousie University dentistry Facebook scandal still crops up.

As a former vice president at the Dalhousie Student Union, she was part of a group that advocated for female dentistry students who complained of sexism, and criticized the university's handling of misogyny on campus.

The CBC contacted her in St. Petersburg, Russia where she's on a student exchange to seek her views on an independent task force report.

The Dalhousie report, authored by professor Constance Backhouse, looked into sexually-violent comments made by male dentistry students. The scandal became public after CBC was given 50 pages of screenshots of the Class of DDS 2015 Gentlemen group in Dec. 2014.

Pleased with the report

Skiptunis says she is happy with the report.

"It is most of what we asked for as the Dalhousie Student Union and I think the recommendations will actually serve to make Dal a better and safer place for students," she said.

The report describes a culture within the dentistry school that allows sexist, misogynist and homophobic incidents. It calls on the university to adopt tools and approaches to focus on systemic change to transform the culture of misogyny. 

The Facebook scandal erupted after a member of the dentistry gentlemen's group shared his laptop with a female student who was named in a poll about hate sex. She used his laptop to take screenshots of offensive posts dating back to the fall of 2011.

Skiptunis wonders if the task force recommendations had been in place, how the Facebook scandal would have been handled. 

"I think the biggest difference would have been potentially for that student in particular and the class of dentistry. From a larger view, this is something that I think we needed to talk about on this campus and campuses across Canada need to address," she said.

Skiptunis is bothered by how the scandal unfolded.

"I am kind of horrified by the fact that, you know, these students had such a taxing experience because this came to light around them and in the media," she said.

Where was the dentistry school's dean?

The task force report does not call for any resignations, and neither does Skiptunis. But she does find fault, particularly with Tom Boran, the dean of the school of dentistry.

"I do think that one of my biggest concerns the whole time was not hearing anything from the dean of dentistry. At no point did he speak up to defend his students, or in support of his students. [He] was very oddly quiet in senate," she said.

Skiptunis says that with his role in the university, students should have heard from him. 

"When situations like this occur, it's sort of your opportunity to show what you can do for the people around you to help them through it. And I didn't see any of that," she said.

'It was ignorant, I do think it was misogynist'

The ordeal took a toll on Skiptunis. As the student union spoke out for the female dentistry students, it found itself named in vandalism scrawled on campus, adding to the stress of the situation.

"The graffiti itself was not necessarily something that was aimed at anyone directly, but I do think it was ignorant, I do think it was misogynist," she said.

The 100-page task force report and its 39 recommendations has been described as a call to action. Skiptunis is worried it will simply gather dust and she says campus groups — especially the senate — will have to be vigilant to hold the university's feet to the fire.

Moving forward

Skiptunis is optimistic there can be change, especially if the university follows a task force recommendation that the school establish a fully-funded ombudsman's office. The student union says there hasn't been one since 2013, when it was a part-time job that was funded jointly by DSU and university administration.

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