Sunday, January 04, 2015

Restorative justice Dalhousie University style

5 Jan 2015 Update on the post below. Dalhousie University announced today that the dental students in question have been suspended from participation in clinics. Apparently they would still be able to attend classes with the fellow female classmates that were the subject of their rape fantasies. Mind boggling. -----

Quite remarkable events are occurring currently at Dalhousie University's Dental School. They take place against the backdrop of an ongoing international outcry about alleged or real rape cultures on university campuses across North America.
 
What happened at Dalhousie is that a bunch of male dentistry students made on a private Facebook page statements celebrating the rape of female fellow students, they reportedly ranked these women for 'hate sex', fantasized about chloroforming them, then raping them, the list goes on.
 
Invariably there has been talk about boys will be boys, immaturity and whatnot. The truth, however, is that these men are adults. They have just about completed a graduate program in dentistry. Here are a bunch of screenshots from their little FB horror show. Misogyny is apparently not a phenomenon limited to student conduct at Dalhousie's School of Dentistry.
 
If the reported facts are correct, I cannot see how any of these students could possibly be permitted to complete their studies and graduate. I also cannot see how anyone could provide them in good conscience with a license to practice dentistry. These students are clearly unfit to become health care professionals. It is that simple. Vulnerable patients should be wary of any regulatory body that saw fit to provide such people with a license to practice dentistry.
 
Given that these students are at the end of the 4th year, one also has to wonder how effective the Dental School's professional ethics education has been.
 
Well, you'd expect that a professional school would simply eject students that demonstrably committed such offences. Not so at Dalhousie. Its President decided to embark on a restorative justice course of action. He is supported by an unsigned letter purportedly from a Dalhousie Feminist Legal Association. The anonymous authors of the letter clearly love restorative justice. Thing is, Dalhousie, prior to engaging in its restorative justice activity, didn't even bother checking with all of the women named in the Facebook group posts whether they thought that that would be an appropriate course of action. At least one of the women named in the Facebook group's messages is explicitly opposed to the informal restorative justice process. She calls the whole idea 'shocking'. It is clear today that there was no consensus among these women about this approach. That alone calls into question its appropriateness.
 
I am not sure where I stand with regard to restorative justice activities. I find the whole idea to subject the victims of violence or abuse to the need to talk to their abusers, make the latter understand and whatnot pretty silly stuff. I can see that it might work in terms of rehabilitating someone, but really, why should that be a victim's job to begin with? In South Africa the Truth and Reconciliation Commission seems to have been a bit of a failure. Many of those whose loved-ones were murdered by the apartheid regime weren't quite happy that everyone was forgiven by the TRC, provided they showed enough contrition - fake or otherwise. You talk to Black South Africans in the streets of, say, Johannesburg today and you'll hear that very many of them think that they were robbed of justice by the activities of the TRC.
 
For the men involved in the Facebook group this restoration exercise provides a shot at walking away scotch-free provided they show enough contrition and reach some consensus with their victims. The fact of the matter is that there will never be a realistic chance of telling whether they have shown genuine insight or whether they were focused on becoming dentists, no matter what. They have been told that they might still be expelled from University, so they have every incentive to grovel as sincerely as they can, no matter what their actual views on the subject. Here is some indication regarding their capacity to show insight and remorse.
 
Meanwhile, come Monday morning, the women subjected to rape fantasies by their male classmates will be lucky enough to face them again in class and dental clinics while the restoration show gets on the road. Is this mind boggling? Not just a little bit. One wonders what's going on in the minds of senior management at Dalhousie.
 
In any case, the university remains responsible for disciplining students that violate its codes of conduct. Several faculty members of the university have lodged a formal complaint that should have triggered a formal investigation (quite distinct from the informal and ultimately toothless restoration exercise). They wrote this letter on December 21, 2014 to Dalhousie's Acting Vice Provost for Student Affairs. The faculty members have not heard back since then. Keep in mind, on Monday these students will be back in class.
 
These faculty members called it right. They asked for a formal disciplinary investigation and a suspension of the students while the investigation is under way. They realised that permitting these men to continue attending classes will not be a cost neutral activity to many of their female classmates. Apparently even this insight is lost on the Dalhousie administration. 
 
While there is nothing per se wrong with following the informal process of restorative justice, it clearly is insufficient to address the problem at hand. A formal disciplinary investigation is called for, independent of the restorative justice exercise. The men involved and identified in the Facebook postings should be suspended until that formal investigation has run its course.