KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – Update: Dalhousie University dropped the disciplinary charges against Khan – but Dal’s statement did not name her at all nor did it apologize! We all know it was the brilliant and feisty interview that Masuma Khan gave on CBC Radio’s The Current which made Dal back down. (hear the 19 minute interview here.
A friend just called to say it’s time to start a White Boys Support Centre at Dalhousie University.
Actually, it’s long overdue. It should have been created about five years ago when the “Class of DDS 2015 Gentlemen” started their private Facebook page when they were all first year students at Dalhousie dental school.
The Dal dental scandal was first exposed on Dec. 6, 2015 – not even two years ago. That day was also the 25th anniversary of the Montréal Massacre. Remember that? 14 young female engineering students at École Polytechnique in Montréal were gunned down by 25-year-old Marc Lépine – because he didn’t like them taking up men’s places in an engineering program.
Before killing the women, Lépine had separated the women from men students and declared, “I hate feminists.” Prior to turning the gun on himself, Lépine had left a written a list of other women (in politics, public life and the media) whom he had planned to kill.Constance Backhouse, a distinguished law professor at University of Ottawa, was the first to notice that the Dal Dental scandal surfaced on the exact day, a quarter-century earlier, that the Montréal Massacre took place.
Prof Backhouse was the lead author of the report on the Dal dental scandal, Report of the Task Force on Misogyny, Sexism and Homophobia in Dalhousie University Faculty of Dentistry. In the report Backhouse wrote, “… on December 6th, 2014, 25 years to the day after the Montréal Massacre…a fourth-year dentistry student at Dalhousie posted a question about his female classmates, in the form of a poll, on an all-male Facebook group called the ‘Class of DDS 2015 Gentlemen’: ‘Who would you hate fuck?’ He also invited members to vote on which classmates they would like to ‘sport fuck.’ ”
Of course hate-fucking, or sport fucking, is not the equivalent of murder. But when the Dal dental scandal finally unraveled, we were treated to an orgy of sexist, racist, misogynist and homophobic comments and photos which had been plastered over at least 50 pages of the “Gentlemen’s” Facebook account. In another institution, students’ postings such as these would be grounds for serious punishment or expulsion.
And many in the wider community called for just that. There were large demonstrations, open meetings, panel discussions —many expected there would be expulsions. Instead the male dental students in the class of 2015 were wrapped in the cozy comfort of a restorative justice process. Sure 13 (out of 29 men) were suspended from classes and labs for two months, but Dalhousie treated them to free private classes and labs so they could catch up and finish their year on time. As one dental student admitted to CTV (on the promise to not reveal his identity) “As embarrassing as it is to say, we felt like we didn’t have to own up, we didn’t feel like the gravity of our words didn’t have any weight because it was private conversation in our view.”
In the end, all but one of the offenders graduated the following June. And Dalhousie was nice enough to refuse to release the names of the formerly suspended students to dental boards across Canada – after all, nothing should stand in the way of the ‘boys’ starting their dental careers blemish-free. Dal’s restorative justice process claimed that the men involved met the “professionalism” standards required to graduate. The university further obliged by not listing the names of some of the “Gentlemen” in the graduation day program, so as to continue to hide the bad boys’ identities. All in the name – as Dal President Florizone said – of transparency!
Also no reprimand was meted out to the dental school faculty members – -overwhelmingly white and male. For years, faculty had allowed the dental students’ lounge, The Cavity, to feature layers of sexist, misogynist, and homophobic slogans and graffiti on its walls. The university had steadfastly ignored requests to have the room painted over. Female dental students complained about The Cavity and also about male faculty members who made sexist and vulgar jokes about them and others in class.
The Class of DDS 2015 Gentlemen were not brought before any disciplinary committee, their names were never revealed (and remain unknown by the public today). Their written threats to sexually violate and kill female classmates go unpunished as do inciting others to humiliate and demean women in their class —both of which are contrary to the Dalhousie’s Code of Student Conduct section 1(e).
Fast forward barely 18 months. Masuma Khan has been singled out for breach of Dalhousie’s Code of Student Conduct. In July, Khan, a vice-president of Dalhousie University Student Union, posted comments that Michael Smith, a white, male post-graduate history student, found offensive. He did not like the fact that the Dalhousie Students Union voted to refuse to participate in ‘Canada 150’ celebrations. Khan had made the motion and said, “I stand by Indigenous students. … Be proud of this country? For what, over 400 years of genocide?” In response to racist comments against her, Khan wrote: “white fragility can kiss my ass. Your white tears aren’t sacred, this land is.”
As journalist Shree Paradkar at the Toronto Star notes, these are “Fierce words. Fighting words. Challenging words [but are they]…. words worth censoring?”
As a result of Smith’s complaint, Khan now faces discipline under the Student Code of Conduct. Under section 1(e), it seems University senate is claiming that Khan “engage[d] in a course of vexatious conduct, harassment or discrimination that is directed at one or more specific persons that is based on … race….” Really? There is no evidence that Khan engaged in a course of vexatious conduct, against Michael Smith, on the basis of his being white.
Back in the summer, the University offered Khan a way out, if you can call it that. Write an essay and go for counseling the university said, and Khan refused, “I don’t see my actions as targeting someone, or white folks,” she said. “White people can go through discrimination but not racism. Reverse racism does not exist because I would never have the power to oppress someone the way the system can oppress marginalized people.”
Support for Khan has rolled in from across the country. From civil liberties groups, to individuals and organizations. 25 members of the Dalhousie Law faculty wrote an open letter in support of Khan and in support of free speech. Other members of the Dal Senate have stood up for her including medical professor Dr Janice Graham who said. “It’s inexplicable for Masuma Khan to be facing the threat of double victimization by a Dalhousie disciplinary action committee, a punishment that was sidestepped by male dentistry students despite offences that made senator Khan’s excitable speech pale in comparison.” She added that Dalhousie was failing to “respond appropriately and effectively to structural imbalances that continue to plague this university.”
Barely two weeks ago, young white male and female Dal undergrads made news when 1500 of them converged in a nearby residential neighbourhood, drinking, shouting, the men pissing on residents’ lawns. Apparently they did not breach any university rules—though 22 did get arrested by city police mainly for public intoxication. You should look at the amateur video.
Dr Graham, noted the double standard when she said, “We need to question an administration that seems more concerned with frat recruitment than scholarship.”
On Wednesday Dalhousie University withdrew their complaint against Masuma Khan. The final blow might have been the brilliant interview Khan gave on CBC radio’s flagship program The Current. The damage to the university’s reputation is just another nail, as the saying goes. But the threats of sexual violence and physical harm against Khan in online “comments” sections of the media continue.
This post was originally published on Judy Haiven’s blog.
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