Understanding sexualized violence

Panel discusses sexual harassment and violence in university atmospheres

Nine students from Dalhousie’s In Nearly 350 people filled Paul O’Regan Hall at the Halifax Central Library on Thursday Jan. 8 to attend a panel discussion about sexualized violence on university campuses.

The event, held by the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Public Affairs, touched on all forms of sexual harassment. It was the Dalhousie Dentistry scandal, however, that was the main topic of discussion.

Five professors from various universities on the peninsula formed the panel, and answered questions from the public regarding sexual harassment and violence on school grounds.

Dr. Françoise Baylis, who sat on the panel, was one of the professors at Dalhousie who submitted a formal complaint about the Dentistry Facebook group.

“What we need to be thinking about is not just biology, but the environment and the culture that we have created,” she said. “We need to think about the link from sexual harassment to sexual violence.”

Dr. Baylis, along with several other professors at Dalhousie, released a statement against misogyny and gendered violence before the discussion. In the statement, the professors “apologized for failing in the past to respond effectively to the problem of sexual violence on university campuses.”

“We’re really talking about character and courage,” she said. “We’re talking about how to change a mindset so that it’s not normal to stand by when things are happening and people know better.”

Sabrina Hiefer, a third-year engineering student at Dalhousie, told the panel that sexual harassment is also apparent in her degree.

“People always ask me if I’ve heard comments like [the ones in the Dentistry Facebook group],” she says. “And my answer is obviously yes and arguably much worse.”

She says females in her class often take part in sexist jokes to fit in in male-dominated fields like engineering.

Dr. Jayne Wark, professor of Art History and Critical Studies at NSCAD, says students need to take accountability for their actions, but at the same time not blame the victim.

“It is not your job to take that on yourselves,” says Wark. “It’s not your job to fix the problem.

Yes you have to address it, but we need to tackle [sexual harassment] from more angles than one.”

The university’s decision to use restorative justice as a consequence to members of the DDS Class of 2015 Facebook group was challenged at the discussion.

A member of the crowd told the panel that restorative justice was a “faulty approach” on the university’s behalf. At the time only two female students who were victims of the Facebook page had decided to go through with restorative justice.

“People who wish to pursue restorative justice should have that opportunity,” said Baylis. “But it’s also important to realize that [restorative justice] is a choice.”

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Katie Thompson

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