Crime and Punishment and Facebook

In light of the ongoing controversy at Dalhousie University concerning students’ online safety, St. Thomas University’s Student Union is reviewing its own harassment and discrimination policies.

(Nick Holland)
(Nick Holland)

Ben Graham, vice-president administration for STUSU, said the union will be looking over what’s already in place for STU students should a situation like Dalhousie’s ever arise here.

“This is something that we have to look at and we have to address,” said Graham. “It’s a concern. Our mission is to ensure the best experience for students during their time at St. Thomas… so that’s what we’re going to be going for with this whole process.”

Online harassment and discrimination became a hot topic last month when reports sprang up of male Dalhousie dentistry students posting misogynistic remarks about female classmates in a private Facebook group. The group – called the 2015 DDS Gentlemen’s Club – faced scandal for posting jokes about using chloroform or nitrous oxide to have sex with female students, voting on which of their classmates they would “hate f***” and defining a penis as “the tool used to wean and convert lesbians and virgins into useful, productive members of society”. Thirteen members have since been suspended from clinical work and could be expelled.

Duncan Matheson manages the Fredericton office of Bissett Matheson Communications Ltd., a public relations firm. He said preparedness is key for crisis management and Richard Florizone, Dalhousie’s president, seems confused about how to proceed.

“I think he wants to do the right thing and he’s shown people that he cares, which is key,” said Matheson. “But he seems to be ad-libbing through it. He doesn’t seem to have much of a plan.”

Matheson said this is an interesting case of crisis management. He doesn’t think Dalhousie has totally botched the situation, but they’ve certainly made mistakes. Matheson thinks the school’s best move would be to air out the dirty laundry and clarify their intentions.

The women who were victimised in the Facebook posts wrote an open letter to Florizone saying they were pressured by the university into pursuing “restorative justice” instead of a more formal route, and Matheson said this lapse in communication does Florizone no favours.

“It’s like one step ahead, two steps back,” said Matheson. “If they misled people and in fact did try to push this restorative justice as a way to perhaps make this go away conveniently, and doing this under the guise that this is what the female students wanted…that just digs the hole deeper for them.”

Karla O’Regan, a STU criminology professor, said she actually favours more informal resolutions like restorative justice. She wants these men to understand the purpose of their punishment and why what they did was wrong. Simply expelling the men would teach them nothing, and O’Regan doesn’t think Dalhousie should pass up this chance to teach.

“There is a learning opportunity there to say this isn’t the common sense,” said O’Regan. “It’s quite an experience for offenders to have to listen to victims talk about the harm that was done to them and then to have to collectively work toward what kind of penalty or remedy is going to address this harm and help move us forward.”

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