Safer policy needed

New harassment policies and education are needed in the wake of recent events at Dalhousie University.

Thirteen male Dalhousie dentistry students were suspended indefinitely from clinical activities earlier this month after Facebook posts with violent sexual content were leaked.

Some comments contemplated sedating and raping specific female students in their program. The severity of such comments can’t be understated, as they consider taking advantage of a profession to harm others.

Many members of the Dalhousie community aren’t satisfied with the suspension and believe the male students should be expelled.

Half of the program’s male students were involved in the incident, a fact that didn’t surprise Dalhousie’s student union president, who said female dentistry students had previously complained of harassment and preferential treatment of men in the program.

This indicates a much more pervasive root issue, one that a simple expulsion won’t adequately address — although it shouldn’t be taken off the table as a potential punishment down the line.

Immediate expulsion doesn’t ensure that the individuals involved are rehabilitated, so that they don’t continue holding and spreading ideas of criminal actions.

These events need to catalyze serious change at Dalhousie, starting with educating students in gender issues from the moment of their admission.

The formal complaint against the male students was filed by four professors, rather than students. Under Dalhousie’s sexual harassment policy, complainants can’t remain confidential — meaning the accused is aware of who filed the complaint.

Confidentiality needs to be possible in formal complaints to protect individuals from perpetrators, and to increase the likelihood individuals will feel safe coming forward.

It’s to Dalhousie’s administration’s credit that they were meticulous in their investigation, and that they decided to delay dentistry exams to ensure students wouldn’t have to sit next to the individuals who made threatening comments against either them or their fellow classmates.

Such careful thought needs to continue throughout this investigation, and a better system for dealing with future incidents should be established.

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