A few do not speak for the Majority – A discussion on the Dalhousie Dental Student Contraversy

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I’ve always done what I can to be a professional, honest person and physician. When I heard about what was going on at the University in which I trained, I wrote a letter to the editor. Here is what I wrote.

Dal must stand up for women

I’ve always considered myself privileged to have gone to Dalhousie University, where I completed a degree in kinesology, an MSc and finally, my doctorate in medicine (Class of 2007). I left to complete a residency program in head and neck surgery in Ottawa, where I work as a surgeon.

I was recently making friendly Maritime-influenced small talk with some patients — the typical, “Where are you from, what school did you go to.” I said Dalhousie. During the day, two patients replied in nearly the identical manner.

“Oh, you went to the rape school.” What do you say in this situation? How do you react? I admitted that I was disgusted by the situation and that it has hurt all Dalhousie alumni, particularly those of us in professional programs and careers.

This situation has gone beyond an isolated event at the university. This is affecting the institution that I held in high regard. We are professionals and the public, which subsidizes a portion of our tuition, expects us to act as professionals. I am not saying that dentistry, pharmacy or medical students should not be allowed to enjoy life, have fun and perhaps be silly once in a while. This is different. Rape culture is not fun. It is not silly. There should be a zero tolerance understanding. Why is it that those who plagiarize on exams at Dalhousie have gotten more severe punishment?

I am also fortunate to have a partner who in the past was heavily involved in youth restorative justice programs in Halifax. These are great programs when used in the right context. A 14-year-old who stole from a neighbour is a situation for use of restorative justice. This youth needs to learn the effects of his actions and to see there is a person that he hurt. However, an adult dentistry student within six months of graduation discussing drugging women for the purpose of raping them, bad joke or not, is not at a  time to point out the errors of their ways. If they don’t get it by now, having them sit for a discussion most certainly will not teach them. There is more to being a professional than passing exams.

As a group, we need to stand up for women and say that rape culture will not be tolerated at our university. I urge the university to reconsider its plans and make a real statement regarding how we feel as an institution towards women at Dalhousie, in Halifax and around the world.

James Bonaparte, MD, MSc, FRCSC, Ottawa

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