1. Dentistry, one year later
On Tuesday, there will be a screening of the documentary The Hunting Ground at the Halifax Central Library (6:30PM). The film is “an exposé of rape crimes on US college campuses & their institutional cover-ups.” This screening comes a year after the Dalhousie “Gentlemen’s Club” Facebook scandal. This should be a good time to be asking questions about what the university has actually been doing in this time, and what lasting effects there have been on the university, and particularly on those who protested the university’s response.
One thing that isn’t being written about is how, in the aftermath of the university’s response, many faculty, staff, students, and others within the university who spoke out have expressed fear about reprisals from the institution. While publicly the institution has created positions and funded initiatives and events intended to address sexual violence on campus, privately some people have experienced pressure not to challenge the university. Some have also spoken about feeling exhaustion after a year of fighting within the institution, and that because of this exhaustion, there are few voices willing to continue to challenge the university’s narrative of the problem being resolved and of the institution moving on.
That people are actively scared of what will happen to them for speaking out also raises questions about the adoption by the university of narratives of “restorative justice.” If large parts of the university community feel fear, anger, anxiety, and have experienced real damage and the sense that they face reprisals from the institution, can we truly say that a restorative process was really engaged? To use restorative justice within communities, surely all members of the community who experienced harm should have a voice in the process and a place to also have access to healing? The very reason why restorative justice is called a process is because it is ongoing, and deals with the long-term effects of harm in communities. Certainly it is understandable that the most urgent step was in engaging the women and men in dentistry, but that shouldn’t mean that once the men graduate the issue is over, while everyone who remains at the university is simply supposed to move on.
My concern has never been that restorative justice as a tool isn’t effective. It has always been that the university has seemed to be using the process as a convenient shield — that restorative ideals are invoked when protecting the men, but abandoned when it requires further work among everyone else. That there seems no intention of continuing the process, or of opening it up for participation or criticism by other members of the university community, suggests that once the men graduated and the “problem” was “over,” suddenly conversation and educating each other and healing are no longer priorities. If the university is serious about these processes, leaving behind large numbers of people who not only feel wounded by their experiences, but who also actively fear what will happen if they continue to speak out about their concerns, goes against everything restorative justice is supposed to stand for in helping communities recover.
I have written about the restorative justice process in the case of the Nova Scotia Coloured Home. Given that these processes are being used on this wider scale as the major response to heal historical wrongs, it seems crucial that there is actual discussion and critique about how they’re being deployed. If there are concerns within the Dalhousie community about the report and what happened with the process, there needs to be an open and transparent evaluation of how it worked, what could be changed, whether it was effective, what the aftermath has been, what failed in the process, etc. If there is no way for those also affected to have input or to address their concerns, what happens as we continue to use these tools in vulnerable communities? Asking these questions is not attacking or axe-grinding or witch hunting — it seems rather that in order to develop effective processes for justice they must always be as transparent and responsive as possible. It concerns me that another major restorative inquiry is underway without there having been any adequate research or evaluation on how the inquiry actually affected people at Dalhousie. If the process is sound, then surely it can also withstand questioning — and if those questioning the process are mistaken about facts or events, surely it is also necessary that there be open venues for this conversation to take place.
Concerns have also been raised that the external task force report led by Constance Backhouse on “misogyny, sexism and homophobia” at Dalhousie has been given less priority than the report into the restorative process. There has been little public accountability about what recommendations the university has actually addressed, what kind of progress has been made in addressing others, and what the timelines are for effectively adopting the Backhouse recommendations. In particular, the Backhouse Report called for “an independent external review of RJ.” To this point, the Administration has announced an international conference on RJ “to assess the RJ process at Dalhousie” organized by those who conducted the restorative process itself — this is clearly not an independent review. These updates must be accessible to the public and the wider community if the university is actually serious about making changes and transforming campus culture.
In particular, concerns have been raised that focus has shifted within the institution from confronting sexual violence, and that the specific issues of sexual violence and misogyny raised by the reports have been dovetailed into “diversity” and other initiatives. It is not that addressing diversity isn’t important, and shouldn’t be a priority, but while softening specific issues of sexual violence by treating them as “diversity issues” may be better for funding or for the public image of the university, it doesn’t actually help address the realities of sexual violence, harassment, rape, and misogyny on campus. The same thing goes for the issues raised in the Backhouse report on racism on campus, which the report termed a “ticking time bomb.” Addressing racism is not the same thing as “diversity” and they shouldn’t be collapsed together just because having “diversity goals” seems acceptable for an institution, while admitting that your campus is racist and addressing it is uncomfortable.
This is not to say that there haven’t been any changes or any positive results of the attention paid to issues of sexual violence and misogyny on campus. The sexual assault help line is one initiative that has been funded in the past year. Another recent report made strong recommendations for increased scholarships for Black and Indigenous students. Others have stated that they have found the university more willing to fund projects and initiatives that engage with the community — there is a sense that, whether it be to repair its public image or not — Dalhousie has set aside resources for things they may not have funded before. However, again that also raises questions of who gets this funding — in particular if those who spoke out openly are not getting this funding, despite their expertise. It is also my experience that while institutions frequently pay lip service to ideas of community, diversity, justice, equality, opportunity, etc., there is little actual engagement with marginalized communities, and those who do research or work within those communities often experience having their work devalued, while members of the community remain excluded from the university.
My dad told me a joke years ago: why is a committee like going to the bathroom? There’s a sitting, a report, and then the matter is dropped. Now that the issue has dropped out of the media, it is easy for the institution to move on. Without people to question, critique, analyze and pressure, there is no reason for institutions to make changes. Those who continue to speak are labelled troublemakers, bitter, or malcontents. Tuesday’s screening and panel seems as good a time as any for media and public to continue to challenge the culture of misogyny, sexism and homophobia on Dalhousie’s campus, and to demand that the institution at minimum be accountable to the recommendations in the report that they themselves — and by extension donors to the university, students, etc. — paid for.
I would love for Dalhousie to be a university that was seriously committed to principles of restorative justice. It would be wonderful if funding were available for people returning from incarceration to attend university for free. I would love to see the university be active in the Black and Indigenous communities, encouraging and giving incentive for people in work in the communities, making access to education a priority, working to reduce or eliminate tuition so those struggling with poverty can attend university, running educational programs on a wide scale inside jails and prisons, and truly dedicating the institution to using education as a transformative tool in communities that are most vulnerable to incarceration because of race, poverty, historical marginalization, trauma, and generational oppression. However, it seems that once the attention to dentistry died down, suddenly the newfound interest by people at the top of the institution in giving people second chances and forgiving past mistakes hasn’t been extended to helping anyone else. Perhaps one day we’ll see the administration down in our neighbourhoods, but until then, I remain skeptical that there is a real commitment to transforming ideas of justice on the part of the institution.
2. Be Glass
City staff have rejected the design for the development on the old CBC and YMCA sites.
Wait, but how can the city reject this design? It’s made of glass! Glass is futuristic, and therefore if we have lots of glass buildings that must mean we’re a world class city!
BOO to the stupid brick building the glass building is too close to. The nerve of it being all brick in our downtown!
Get with the times Paramount building (image from cbc.ca) not being made of all glass.
The report recommends the side closest to Paramount be tapered back from the other building. But Spatz disputes the recommendation as the Paramount has no windows on that side.
“We would have come up with an ugly wedding cake shaped kind of building,” Spatz said. “We’ve come up with a better building than had we nipped and tucked where they’d suggested.”
No windows on that side? You mean there’s a whole side of the building where there could be glass and isn’t?
God, if we want to be a world class city like New York or something we can’t have wedding cake style buildings, okay?
Halifax: now with more dead/concussed birds.
There are only 1,000 people attending
Rainmen Hurricanes games.
Meanwhile, according to the article, “instead of Levingston being the sole owner as he was in the past, the team now has an investor group of 25 people.” That’s probably more people than are actually paying for tickets.
OH HEY. Clearly the Hurricanes are a TOTALLY NEW TEAM that have NOTHING IN COMMON WITH THE RAINMEN AT ALL. Super clever sneaky strategy there with changing the name, now nobody will associate the team with last season!
Maybe the name is actually a tribute to Hurricane Carter and the name is a subtle protest against the league scapegoating the Rainmen players and enacting unjust fines on them. Every time the
Rainmen Hurricanes take the court, perhaps we are supposed to contemplate justice, criminality, and how Black bodies are unfairly stereotyped and convicted.
What up Dalhousie admin! I’m changing my name to El
International Master of Memory Evan Xie (image from Halifax Metro) is like “Hey, wait a minute, I remember the Rainmen!”
4. It’s Classified (not the rapper)
I mostly like this article on classified military information being found on a hard drive left at a recycling depot (!!!) for the following quote:
Without having an expert sight the drive to verify that the computer and drive are of military origin, and without gaining knowledge of when the computer and drive were taken into possession by your source, and without ruling out theft or even personal property of a military member, I cannot verify the nature of the files contained therein,” said Rear-Admiral John Newton, Commander of Maritime Forces Atlantic.
Who knows where the files could be from without a super duper expert opinion?
According to the article, “The Department of National Defence is making arrangements to pick up the hard drive from Stevens.”
1. “Stop Writing for the Halifax Herald”
From the Halifax Media Co-op:
Today, Friday January 8th, the [Halifax Typographical] union issued a press release requesting that freelance writers, contributors and op-ed writers not contribute to the Chronicle Herald until the union is back at work with a contract in hand. According to Ingrid Bulmer, president of the Halifax Typographical Union, Chronicle Herald management has been actively soliciting King’s University journalism students, as well as freelance union members, in preparation for a strike situation.
There is an interview with Bulmer at the link.
I want to use this space to say something about Tim Bousquet and the Examiner. I started writing here in May after writing a guest Morning File while Tim was away. I contacted Tim about the possibility of writing for him further, and he immediately agreed. Tim has given me a space where he allows me to write whatever I want. He doesn’t demand I write certain things for page views, or censor less popular views. He has been incredibly supportive of me as a writer and as a person — and he has paid me incredibly well, and at a time when I was unemployed and struggling financially he began paying me more (perhaps more than a small publication can afford) and he doesn’t even really know this, but pretty much his money is what allowed me to eat the last few months (it’s okay, I’m working again now. Holla EI auditors!) He has allowed me the space to experiment, whether it’s writing satire, or writing more serious articles, or using too many cat memes. I have always consciously made the column a place where news from the Black community and Black viewpoints are centered, and Tim has always been completely supportive of that project.
I’m saying all this really as a way of saying — if you like reading the Examiner, and you like what Tim and I and others write, it would be great if you could subscribe to the Examiner. That money isn’t going into Tim’s pocket, it’s going to the site, and to being able to pay writers. Tim was kind of embarrassed about asking me to give a funding link, actually, but I think it is important that we fund the media we want! So if you’re able to, and you like Morning File and you want to support the site, think about getting a subscription HERE!
Not Tim rolling around in your money, I promise!
PS. I logged into Facebook to message Tim to let him know I was finished writing Morning File and I see THIS QUOTE from Tim:
I just wanna see downtown Dartmouth burn down, because I hate Dartmouth and old people and such. Yep. You’re on to me. This couldn’t possibly be about anything else. I just wanna smell dead old people skin.
The above post pretty much sums up the Dal situation completely. It seems reasonable and well thought out to me. People have the right to make jokes that you think are in poor taste. This does not make them rapists. Coming to this conclusion is simply hysteria. Just because you are worried about the boogeyman, doesn’t mean he is actually in your closet, and it doesn’t mean anyone should take you seriously.
It is convenient how all of these so called “victims” groups end up asking for money. I re-read the above article from El Jones, thinking maybe I had missed some massive boondoggle or abuse, but all I could find was, again, feelings based conclusions. Nothing existing outside of anyone’s head, just feelings. No actual EVIDENCE, just feelings. Ex:
“… have expressed fear about reprisals …”
“… have experienced pressure … ”
“… feeling exhaustion after a year …”
“… people are actively scared of what will happen to them …”
“… feel fear, anger, anxiety, and have experienced real damage and the sense that they face reprisals from the institution”
“… all members of the community who experienced harm should …”
“… deals with the long-term effects of harm in communities.”
“… healing are no longer priorities.”
“… who not only feel wounded by their experiences, but who also actively fear what will happen if they continue to speak out about their concerns.”
“… any adequate research or evaluation on how the inquiry actually affected people at Dalhousie.”
“Concerns have also been raised that … has been given less priority …”
“In particular, concerns have been raised that focus has shifted …”
Basically we are at the point where a joke made in private is now an atomic weapon. After providing no evidence on any actual harassment (ie: reporting), the article then panders for money for groups (and some jobs). A large segment of society has realized that another large segment suffers from white/Catholic/Jewish/Male guilt, and has created the phenomenon of identity politics to constantly exploit that guilt for money.
This was a non-event. Pretending it was an incident, of any significance at all, is trivializing of real victims of abuse and is shameful. If you are suffering from it then you can locate the cause of your suffering in the nearest mirror.
*Says gently and with much respect.” I do agree that Dal has to work harder to be transparent and show and speak to initiatives that are part of the healing of the Dahousie Community as a whole.
However, as regards your concerns about RJ, the process itself was responsible only to those at the very centre of the harm that was done (the DD women) and those they chose to be involved. I suggest to you that restorative justice/practices are significantly healing, if done by experts, with appropriate resources, and the success of this project is and must be determined by the women that were directly harmed, and I know they felt their harm was addressed.
The survivor/victims chose the process (granted there were only two choices but you can’t make new policy on the run)) and were fully engaged and in charge of the direction.
And just to clarify, the conference is not to “to assess the RJ process at Dalhousie” organized by those who conducted the restorative process itself “. but rather to ” bring together members of the International Learning Community with other local, national and international experts to share their insights from the Dalhousie process and how they apply more broadly to the communities in which people live, learn and work.”
Some of the men and women from the Dal Dentistry issue are fully involved with the planning of the conference. It is not an evaluation of the RJ process used last year.
And lastly, I have to say I have some concerns about the Backhouse Report. There was only interviews, with no fact checking or follow-up, and nowhere in that report did we hear the voices of those most directly harmed, the DD women.
If, as a non-Dal grad I can offer an observation, there is much that appears to be systemically wrong at Dal, as in most post secondary schools in NS & elsewhere. What is your solution to how that might be resolved?
Thank you for this comment. I agree that the first and most important focus was the dentistry women and that is appropriate. But when we are dealing with systemic issues, don’t we have to also acknowledge wider harms? In transformative justice we talk about how the entire community is affected by crime/incarceration/the criminal justice system, and that in order to move away from incarceration models we must recognize and engage the whole community. My question is that if Dalhousie is serious about addressing this issue in the context of wider systemic and institutional misogyny then it can’t simply be quarantined. There should be support by the institution to continue healing and conversation, not to silence people who are speaking out. Many women on campus expressed feeling triggered, unsafe, etc. at the time, yet there has been no effort by the institution to engage healing for those women.
To use one example, as a black woman I am harmed by the presence of racist graffiti on campus – as was discovered in the dentistry building during the investigation process. I am a victim of that whether or not my name is used, because the presence of racial slurs directly creates a culture where I am endangered. Using the n-word etc. collectively harms black people. So am I not also victimized?
That doesn’t invalidate the work done by the RJ process with the dentistry women, but it points out that stopping the work there and not providing any other venue for these issues to be addressed leaves other victims. The responsibility here is not with those engaged to do specific work – create a process specifically with dentistry – but with an institution that is shutting down any further attempts to engage, and is leaving other victims silenced and excluded.
My solution for resolution is at least in part for the institution to recognize that the issue is not closed and that it had ripple harm effects for many others in the university community who are coping with those consequences today. Recognizing also that those who challenge the institution and push for more answers and accountability are not oppositional and outside the RJ process – but that it is precisely this conflict that mediation and RJ should address. Perhaps an RJ process with members of the wider university who wish to participate might be worth pursuing. Including dissenting voices is healthy, and community justice has to find ways to deal with and resolve conflict, not to ignore or silence it.
As I said, it may be that the many students, faculty and staff who have voiced these concerns are misinformed – in which case there clearly need to be better communication strategies about what happened and is happening.
To this statement: “Perhaps an RJ process with members of the wider university who wish to participate might be worth pursuing. Including dissenting voices is healthy, and community justice has to find ways to deal with and resolve conflict, not to ignore or silence it.”
That is certainly a potential solution, I know you can appreciate that in the RJ process last year, the women chose who were to be involved, but that doesn’t preclude another process to address other harms.
Pamela Hfx states: “I suggest to you that restorative justice/practices are significantly healing, if done by experts, with appropriate resources, and the success of this project is and must be determined by the women that were directly harmed, and I know they felt their harm was addressed.” Please remember that there were 4 women who were directly harmed in the dentistry scandal who chose not to participate in RJ, and, to this day, their harms have not been addressed. Furthermore, the RJ report falsely accused members of the Dalhousie Senate of attempting to “quash the RJ process,” and its authors refused to correct the record when this inaccurate and harmful statement in the report was brought to their attention. This is further evidence of Ms. Jones’ point that RJ at times seemed more about protecting the university’s reputation and the offending male dentistry students than it was about pursuing justice.
And due to the fact that the report was posted without any amendment, anyone interested in researching and assessing the process would have to a) know the issue with the report was brought before senate and b) dig through the minutes to find the discussion. This seems at odds with the stated goals of the conference, and certainly with the aims of a research institution.
My understanding is that the four women refused both available options. As i said in my first comment,
The 4 women asked that the university accept the complaint that 4 faculty members filed on their behalf under the Code of Student Conduct. The university threw out that complaint on a technicality, thereby refusing the 4 women the other option Pamela mentions. The 4 women understandably did not want to file the complaint in their own names because the university policy would not allow them to do so without their identities being disclosed. By contrast, the university bent over backwards to protect the identities of the 16 (not 13) members of the Dentistry Gentlemen’s group.