Dalhousie University will move forward with “an informal resolution procedure” to address “deeply offensive” Facebook comments posted by some male fourth-year dentistry students, some about their female classmates.

Officials at the school say that about a week ago, they received a complaint about online comments posted to a page allegedly run by about a dozen male students. The group is called Class of DDS 2015 Gentlemen.

The group is closed, and so the posts are not visible to non-members. However, Dalhousie president Richard Florizone confirmed that the comments are of a sexual nature and portray violence against women. Some fourth-year female dentistry students are named in some of the posts.

In a statement issued late Wednesday afternoon, Florizone said “a number of” the women who have come forward with complaints about the posts “have elected to proceed with a restorative justice process” under the school’s sexual harassment policy.

The policy outlines two options for addressing complaints: an informal resolution procedure, and a formal complaint procedure.

“The restorative justice process is collaborative and inclusive of the parties involved, with a view to developing outcomes that ensure accountability,” Florizone said in his statement, adding that the process is confidential.

The outcome of the process “may become public if it is the wishes of those involved,” he went on, adding that if at any time all parties no longer meet a standard of good-faith participation and meaningful participation, a formal complaint procedure will be initiated.

Other women who have yet to come forward may also decide to pursue a formal complaint, Florizone said.

At a press conference Wednesday night, Florizone said the school’s focus was on helping those who were directly harmed by the Facebook group, and on “holding the individuals responsible accountable for their behaviour.”

“The incident is particularly saddening because it does show how much work we still have to do as an institution and society to create that environment that is free from harassment, free from discrimination, free from sexualized violence.”

In his statement, Florizone said the comments were first brought to the attention of university administration on Dec. 7, and that student was referred to the office of human rights, equity and harassment prevention.

After media reports brought the situation to public attention on Monday, many of the women who were the subjects of the posts, as well as some of the members of the Facebook group, have come forward, he said.

“On behalf of the entire university community, I reiterate and emphasize that these types of degrading and misogynistic comments are entirely unacceptable,” Florizone said.

“The comments have caused harm broadly -- most importantly, to the women who were impacted by these posts, and women in general, but also to our Faculty of Dentistry, to the university and to the dental profession.

The school previously announced that it had cancelled all exams for fourth-year dentistry students, and will reschedule them in January.

Florizone also announced that he plans to form a presidential task force in the coming weeks that will look at ensuring that the Dalhousie community is “inclusive and respectful.”

He expects to provide another update on the situation by the end of January.

In the meantime, a petition posted to change.org calls on Florizone to expel any students who were either members of or participated in the Facebook group.

By late Wednesday, the petition had gained 4,000 supporters.

The petition cites the Dalhousie Student Code of Conduct, which includes a section on “offences against persons.”

Article “F” of that section states: “No student shall engage in unwelcome or persistent conduct that the student knows, or ought to reasonably know, would cause another person to feel demeaned, intimidated or harassed.”

The petition says that “none of the students” allegedly involved in the Facebook group should be allowed to continue their studies, graduate and find employment “in a position of power and trust.”

It also says that “all students should have the right to study in a positive environment that is free from the above attitudes; where every student feels safe to learn valued as a member of the School.”