‘Become a Citizen of Dal’: rape culture and restorative justice at Dalhousie University

In the days leading up Christmas, Nova Scotia’s Dalhousie University – where you can “Become a Citizen of Dal” – is bringing goodwill to all men. But to its lady-folks, it’s bringing “restorative justice,” showing that change to rape culture on Canadian university campuses is slow in coming.

Dalhousie University’s School of Dentistry has come under fire for implementing a process of “restorative justice” to discipline male students involved in “Class of DDS 2015 Gentlemen,” a now defunct Facebook group that posted graphic, violent, and sickening commentary.

Dal.Become a Citizen

A registration banner from Dalhousie University’s website. Source: Dal.ca

A post of a woman in a bikini with the caption: “Bang until stress is relieved or unconscious (girl).”  A post in which a member helpfully explains that a penis is a “tool used to wean and convert lesbians and virgins into useful, productive members of society.”  Another one where male students vote on which women they’d “hate-f*ck.”  And one that jokes “Does this rag smell like chloroform to you??”

Terrifying. These are your future dentists, Canada. And as dentists, they will have access to anaesthetics. Feel safe yet?

So what is Dalhousie University doing about this?

Indulging in some “restorative justice.” According to Jennifer Llewellyn, Viscount Bennett Professor of Law at Dalhousie, “restorative justice an idea that says, at its core, justice has to be about repairing or addressing the harm caused to social relationships when wrongdoing happens. It is the idea that justice demands we understand that harms are not done just to the individuals but to the way individuals are connected to others.”

In short, a sit-down between the DSS Gentlement and the female students they targeted in their posts to negotiate what punishment should look like.

So let’s recap:

Threaten to shoot up a school = police will be called.

Plagiarize your essay = you will be reprimanded and possibly expelled.

Threaten to rape of your female classmates? Well, we’ll just ruffle your hair and tell you you’ve been bad (read: boys will be boys). No sense in ruining a young man’s pricey career, right? Give them a second chance (unlike rape survivors, who don’t get that luxury). Let’s not be feminist killjoys, and just let restorative justice take care of it.

And clearly, Dalhousie’s student body isn’t having any of it, with news of over 200 students today marching in protest from the dentistry school at President Richard Florizone’s office.

Brian Crouse, Resource and Administrative Coordinator at the Nova Scotia Public Interest Research Group (NSPIRG), captured the failures of Dal’s “citizenship/community” in a Facebook post that has since gained traction on Twitter, writing:

Restorative justice can be a transformative way to solve conflict, but its roots are in communities where people were part of a community for life. You screw up, you realize it, and you and your community work like hell to learn from the mistake – because they don’t get another chance at you, and you don’t get another chance at a community.

This is not the case at Dalhousie. Senior Dentistry Students aren’t a part of a valued community or even a long-term group of peers.

Claiming that restorative justice could work here is a joke. There’s no “community” to restore. There are just some men, who are perpetrating violence against women. There’s also a university administration that is now condoning that violence by still allowing those perpetrators to go to school here. Shameful. #DalhousieHatesWomen

Julie Lalonde, co-founder of Hollaback Ottawa, takes it one step further, pointing out the link between campus and societal rape culture, “When Rehtaeh Parsons died, people put up “Support the boys” posters around town. Dalhousie is in that community. #dalhousiehateswomen.”

Restorative justice cannot work. Justice implies the full measure of citizenship and community. And at the moment, Dalhousie University’s female students are woefully asymmetrical citizens denied of any form or citizenship and community. And they are being utterly deprived of any form of leadership from their university.

A screen capture from Dalhousie University's recruitement brochure. Source: Dal.ca

A screen capture from Dalhousie University’s recruitement brochure. Source: Dal.ca

A 25-year old female student, who spoke to CBC on condition of anonymity, said “I think as an institution it’s Dalhousie’s job to make a safe learning environment for all of its students regardless of what the issue is now. Take some leadership, take some initiative, prevent these issues from happening.”

In the absence of any serious leadership from Dalhousie University, others have stood up. Notably Twitter, who matched the Gentlemens’ “hate-f*ck” with a powerfully worded hashtag: #DalhousieHatesWomen (an exaggeration? No – let’s believe men when they talk rape, “hate-f*cking,” and using anaesthetics as weapons of sexual assault.)

The Internet further stepped up via a Change.org petititon, calling on the university to expel the students who participated in Class of DDS 2015 Gentlemen, writing: “Not one individual, regardless of sex, age or gender that participates in a group that condones violence towards women including rape, the drugging of females and other misogynistic attitudes should ever be placed in a position of trust.”

Leadership has also come from Dalhousie’s own prominent alumni, notably the Shoveller family, who argued that Dalhousie’s action is inadequate, writing: “These 13 men incited violence against women using Dalhousie as their ‘brand.’ (…)You have failed to live up to the university’s fiduciary responsibilities by ‘defaulting’ to a ‘restorative justice’ approach. Moreover, you have missed an opportunity to show the world that Dalhousie University will not tolerate sexism or violence.”

Leadership came from sexual assault experts in the community, with the Avalon Sexual Assault Centre calling on the university to kick out the students: “We ask that Dalhousie University take the initiative to show its female students and the community it resides in, that rape and sexualized violence will not be taken lightly.”

Timid, tentative attempts at leadership have even come from Nova Scotia’s Heath Minister Leo Glavine, who – though he affirms his confidence in the restorative justice process – underscores that blocking the students from obtaining their license to practice is a step he’s prepared to take.

A screen cap from Dalhousie University's recruitement brochure. Source: Dal.ca

A screen cap from Dalhousie University’s recruitement brochure. Source: Dal.ca

And so Dalhousie “citizenship” for the university’s female student body is critical – they must be given more than “restorative justice.” They must be given the full measure of what “Become a Citizen of Dal means,” “That phrase, ‘citizen,’ [which] speaks to that idea of a community, one that enriches you and is enriched by your involvement.”

Full citizenship at Dalhousie – or any university for that matter – means that universities must step up and stamp out the culture that allows rape culture to thrive in the first place.

As Elle Beaver’s Shelagh Hartford has written before, young women learn that universities aren’t interested in what happens to them:

We inevitably learn that we are in no way considered equals. We are hardly considered humans. These lessons prepare us for a world that is dangerous for women – sidewalks, buses, subways, taxis, our own beds our friend’s houses, our workplaces – just as university campuses. We learn that society expects us to take every possible extra precaution. To constantly be looking over our shoulders. To fend for ourselves. We learn that if we are too angry, or too loud in our protest – we are being unfair to the good men. We learn that “feminist” is a dirty word. Hopefully, we learn to keep fighting for change.

And it’s up to us – the wider community – to help them to keep fighting for that change.

7 thoughts on “‘Become a Citizen of Dal’: rape culture and restorative justice at Dalhousie University

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