Posts Tagged Dalhousie University

Restorative Justice Concludes Ugly Dalhousie Facebook Scandal

Published by EducationNews.org — Lessons learned, when Dalhousie University gave victims the opportunity to face their offenders and decide the consequences.

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The nasty social-media scandal caused by male 4th year students at the Dalhousie University Dental School has resolved.  Victims, offenders and relevant faculty participated in a restorative-justice (RJ) process for five painful months.  In conclusion, they wrote a 9-page “Statement from the Restorative Justice Participants,” speaking together and as sub-groups.

This summation of lessons learned might well become a seminal document in the evolution of the growing Restoration movement.  It is not a report with specifics about who, what and when — however curious we are as to exactly what went on in those conference meetings.  Nor is it a how-to.  The RJ techniques are hardly mentioned.

Instead, they describe certain fruits of their labors — the mutual understandings reached, as well as some hard, life-changing experiences they never anticipated.  Twenty-nine of the students, nearly the whole 4th-year class, took part in the process, along with some faculty members and facilitators.

Briefly, the facts are these:  For three and a half years, thirteen men had an invitation-only Facebook page that functioned as a raunchy boys’ locker room.  Their postings seemed almost competitive in their vulgarity, indulging gluttonously in the bad-boy culture of manly, randy men.  Mind you, in person and daily life, they were close friends with their female colleagues in a tight culture of young adults, most of whom were far away from home.  But in cyberspace their discussions of those very women were repulsive.  Finally one offender outed the page to one of its victims.  The screen shots leaked to the press were media red meat.  Scandal erupted.  The public demanded vengeance.

Most universities would have expelled the men and washed their hands of it.

Dalhousie is a rare standard bearer for restorative justice in their handling of student misconduct.  The University offered the victims the opportunity to face their offenders, to be heard by them, and finally, to decide the consequences.

In the victims’ section of the Statement, the women explain their decision: RJ “provided us with a different sort of justice than the punitive type most of the loudest public voices seemed to want.  We were clear from the beginning, to the people who most needed to hear it, that we were not looking to have our classmates expelled as 13 angry men who understood no more than they did the day the posts were uncovered.”

Take-away #1:  Bad-boy culture is alive and well among us.

No one makes excuses for the hurt caused.  But according to the participants, one tough lesson was that on Facebook the offenders were just manifesting an oft-tolerated boys-will-be-boys culture.  Again, here are the victims:  “We are part of a generation in which inappropriate sexualization is more common and widespread than ever before, and we have become used to this.  …  For example, we have always known about the men’s Facebook group.  …  It was only when we knew it was about us that we took real offense.  That made us realize that we, as women, also contribute to the culture and climate that allows Facebook groups like the one at issue to persist and flourish.”

Take-away #2:  Also alive is a revenge culture that believes in the virtue of hurt.

Besides the remorse marbleized throughout, the Statement exudes resentment of the pressure and outright meanness of those who wanted blood.  From the get-go, the press and social media insisted the men be expelled at a minimum, and taken to court and prison, if possible.  What empathy there was for the women was expressed as rage at the men.  The backlash against using restorative justice itself was hot and hateful.  Midway through the process, the victims pleaded with the public to let the process play out.  RJ was their choice, after all, but the public bloodlust continued.

The offenders say, “The efforts of some to gain information about us have resulted in significant threats and harms against us and our families.”  Their families?!  Wow.

Mind you, the victims were satisfied.  They wanted the right to determine how to resolve the matter.  The entire group negotiated consequences for the men.  The Statement purposely gives no specifics beyond that each man performed at least 150 community service hours.  And from the time the story broke, they’d been suspended from performing their clinical hours, delaying their graduation at best.

The statement by participating faculty members says:  “Many felt the issues around the Facebook incident were black and white — a group of students did a terrible thing and should be expelled.  However, first and foremost we are educators.  Punitive measures such as expulsion do not change attitudes or positively influence future behaviour, nor do they address underlying systemic problems.  [The women] saw restorative justice as the most promising path towards meaningful change.”

The establishment of guilt, and meting out of hurt, doesn’t change anything for the better.  It’s revenge, an eye for an eye.  The punished offender often grows more defensive, resentful, hopeless of redemption and incapable of improving.  For that reason, traditional justice produces high rates of recidivism.  If changing behavior really is the point, punishment is not working.

 

Julia Steiny is a freelance columnist who also blogs about Restorative Practices and Restorative Justice. After serving on the Providence School Board, she became the Providence Journal’s education columnist for 16 years, and has written for many other outlets. As the founding director of the Youth Restoration Project, she’s been building demonstration projects in Rhode Island since 2008. She analyses data and provides communications consulting on Information Works! and the RIDataHUB, through The Providence Plan. For more detail, see juliasteiny.com or contact her at juliasteiny@gmail.com or 24 Corliss Street #40022, Providence, RI 02904.

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Dalhousie, A University With the Guts To Teach

Published by EducationNews.org — Restorative Justice has been tried, honed, and is now mature enough to weather the media onslaught.

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Our story takes place at top-ranked Dalhousie University in Canada.  A bunch of bad-boy dentistry students, in their 4th and last year of training, used an invitation-only Facebook page as their online men’s locker room.  Interspersed with aggressively vulgar and misogynistic posts, the men discussed their women colleagues by name.  As in:  Which woman would you most like to have “hate sex” with?  (I had to look it up.)

Last December, one of them outed the page to one of the targeted female students.  Then screen shots went viral.  And though the page was deleted, damage was done.  Immediately, the public was out for blood.  A petition demanding the men’s expulsion from the school amassed 42,000 signatures in a week.  Some faculty members similarly issued their own petition.  Kick ‘em out; heads should roll; get them out of sight and out of mind.  The media was having a field day, just as it has been with the recent rash of outed college misbehavior — drug dealing, racism, and rape.

Colleges knock themselves out to manage their students’ bad behavior privately.  Their rankings and fundraising depend on maintaining the image of an institution with noble purpose.  So, if the scandal does go public, lay the blame squarely on offenders and dispose of them.  They were the root of the problem.  They’re now expelled.  Let’s put this behind us.  End of story.

Dalhousie chooses a far tougher road:  Restorative Justice.

All 13 men have been suspended from fulfilling their clinic hours, which means that they’ll likely not graduate on time, at a minimum.  So far, that is the only apparent consequence – because all of Dalhousie’s misbehaving students are given a choice.  They can lawyer up, as did the whistleblower, and take their chances in the conventional court system.

Or, if they accept responsibility for their actions, they can participate in a Restorative Justice process.  Heads might still roll one day.  But first, University facilitators work with offenders, victims and those most directly affected.  They talk with the individuals and later bring them together as a group to understand what on earth happened.  The group will determine what would set things right, including what consequences offenders should face.

In this case, 12 of the 13 offenders agreed to the process, as did the victims and classmates not directly involved.  Almost the entire 2015 Dentistry class, 29 students total, opted to participate.  If this sounds warm and fuzzy, imagine discussing such an ugly rift with people you once considered colleagues, if not friends.  The hurt, the anger, the shame.

The Dalhousie site, dedicated to updating the public, explains:

The restorative process… requires those who have caused harm to accept responsibility and be accountable for the consequences of their actions… When wrongdoing occurs, justice requires attention to the needs of those who have been harmed… In this case this includes harm to those directly affected and more broadly to the public trust.

Restorative Justice (RJ) is not new to Dalhousie.  Certain professors in their law school are passionate RJ advocates, including Jennifer Llewellyn, whom I’ve heard speak at international conferences.  The Dalhousie RJ process has been tried, honed, and is now mature enough to weather the media onslaught currently vilifying the University’s choices.

Two remarkable things are happening.

First, the University is turning itself inside out, allowing the issues to be examined in their fullness.  On a dedicated site, the University President regularly updates the public to the extent confidentiality allows him.  He explains that the RJ evolves in its own time, so no, they do not know when it will be concluded. The University’s Committee for Academic Standards and professionalism is conducting an investigation of its own.  And a task force has been convened to investigate “Misogyny, Sexism and Homophobia in the Faculty of Dentistry.”

This is not sweeping matters under the rug.

Second, all 29 participating students recently wrote an open letter to the public begging outsiders and the media to back off and quit trying to interfere with the process or to stop it.  Published unedited, the impressive document concludes:

We believe that the education and perspective that we are gaining through our participation in the restorative justice process will allow us to be better healthcare providers, colleagues, and representatives of Dalhousie University. We ask, as a group, that our privacy and our right to pursue this restorative process off the public stage be respected. The constant public attention has been harmful and even sometimes threatening to us, our families and friends…  We hope that through this process our voices and experiences will make significant contributions to the important public discussions about sexism, misogyny, inclusion, and professionalism.

In other words, let the process teach.  Let the public learn from the participants.  Bad-boy bad apples are the symptoms, not the cause.  Kicking them out doesn’t help the University or anyone else get to the depth of cultural dysfunction that is erupting on campuses.

Tom Wolfe’s I Am Charlotte Simmons offers a readable, if brutal, window into the pervasiveness of sickening cultural norms at high-end colleges.  Restorative justice can dig into those norms in the course of dealing with the offenders and the people they hurt.  Dalhousie is exercising true accountability.  As such, they are good teachers — and importantly, good learners.

 

Julia Steiny is a freelance columnist who also blogs about Restorative Practices and Restorative Justice. After serving on the Providence School Board, she became the Providence Journal’s education columnist for 16 years, and has written for many other outlets. As the founding director of the Youth Restoration Project, she’s been building demonstration projects in Rhode Island since 2008. She analyses data and provides communications consulting on Information Works! and the RIDataHUB, through The Providence Plan. For more detail, see juliasteiny.com or contact her at juliasteiny@gmail.com or 24 Corliss Street #40022, Providence, RI 02904.

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