by Analisa Novak
Although room 212 of Willard Hall is no longer in use, the traumatic memory of what occurred there still exists for former Central Connecticut State University student, Shannon Cunningham. This is where she was sexually assaulted by then Adjunct Professor Daniel Gula, according to multiple court documents.
Cunningham said that her attack happened when her guard was down the most and in broad daylight.
“The location was without a doubt safe. It wasn’t in a dark ally, in a dark parking lot or parking garage. It was on a state university campus, around 5 p.m. The sun still out and shinning bright when I walked in. Classes in session all around , students and faculty walking around outside. I can see the students and professors teaching in the rooms; doors are open,” Cunningham said in a victim statement to the court.
Before the assault, Cunningham said she respected Gula after she met him through a chance encounter. They spoke about Italian culture and museums, and had previously met in his office before where they shook hands as she left.
She never expected that weeks after meeting him he would trap her in a room, grab her breast, grind on her buttocks and expose himself to her.
According to the arrest warrant, Cunningham met with Gula on Sept. 15, 2014 to discuss an event she had attended. They conversed in his office and Gula shut the door due to noise.
Once the door was shut, the conversation then shifted with Gula playing with his wedding ring and saying “shinny shinny, pretty pretty.” Cunningham thought this was odd and got ready to leave for class. It was then that Gula asked her for a high-five, instead of the normal handshake they would do.
Shortly after, he asked Cunningham to hug him. As they hugged, it was then that he squeezed her, so tightly that Cunningham heard the professor’s shoulder pop.
“The hug was only a way to restrain me,” Cunningham said in her victims statement.
Cunningham still remembers how she was backed into a small corner of the room, as Gula began to sexually assault her.
“He backed me into a wall between the first desk in the room on the left and book shelves to the right. The area felt small. I felt trapped. I remember feeling like my brain was numb and body was numb all over. I couldn’t think clear…it wasn’t registering what was happening to me….it was as if my brain was on overload and wasn’t connected,” Cunningham said in the victim statement.
Cunningham told police that the more she tried to get away, the more aggressive Gula became.
“I kept trying to pull his arms and hands off my breasts and body. He was untouched by my words to stop. He continued pulling and grabbing at my breasts,” Cunningham said in the victim statement.
Cunningham said the event lasted eight to nine minutes, but felt like it was never ending. She was fearful that if she screamed, Gula would do something else.
“My thinking wasn’t clear, but I was terrified and numb. If I screamed or made any sudden moves, I didn’t know if he would strangle me, to shut me up. His hands had been so close to my neck. I had no idea who this monster was. I had no idea what else he was capable of doing,” said Cunningham in the victims statement.
Cunningham told police that she was unable to yell but she did manage to convince Gula to stop. She then escaped the room and went to class, although she was very late.
Days later with the support of her friends, Cunningham went to the Ruth Boyea Women’s Center and reported the assault. The case was then passed on to the CCSU Office of Diversity and Equity.
According to the arrest warrant, CCSU Police then spoke to Cunningham and she told them about the assault that had occurred.
Later that day, Gula came into the CCSU Police Department to speak to the them. According to the arrest warrant, he was told that he was not under arrest and could leave at anytime.
According to the arrest warrant, Gula adamantly denied any sexual misconduct, only stating that he gave her a hug. CCSU Police then told Gula that Cunningham was not going to be pressing charges, and they were looking to get the truth to close the investigation.
It was then that Gula admitted to the assault and signed a sworn voluntary statement, attesting that what he did to Cunningham was true. After the interview was over, he was allowed to leave the police station, according to the arrest warrant.
Cunningham said in the victim statement that the CCSU Police told her they had took Gula’s badge and keys, and fired him. Cunningham elected to be withdrawn from her courses and was issued a refund.
Months later, according to an investigation report done by Chief Diversity Officer Rosa Rodriguez, the report concluded that Gula violated the Board Of Regents and Connecticut State Colleges and University’s Sexual Misconduct, Sexual Assault and Intimate Partner Violence Policy.
The conclusion of the investigation was that the case was completed and closed, as Gula resigned from his position before the investigation was completed according to the report.
After Gula resigned from CCSU, he then went on to teach at the University of Saint Joseph, a mostly female university.
“Daniel Thomas Gula was an adjunct faculty member here from Aug. 24, 2015 to Sept. 4, 2015,” said University of Saint Joseph marketing director, Diana Sousa.
Almost a year after the assault, Cunningham decided to press charges when she discovered that Gula was never fired from CCSU. Cunningham said she feels betrayed by CCSU because they allowed him to resign, thus allowing him to go teach at other universities.
“I believed he was fired. I believed they took his badge and keys the day he confessed. I believed this would forever stain his teaching record. After all, it was a criminal act, a felony or two and misdemeanor and not just policy violations. I believed that a university had obligations by law to ensure the safety of their campus and other campuses,” Cunningham said in the victim statement.
On Aug. 14, 2015, Cunningham along with CCSU Victim Advocate and Violence Protection Specialist Sarah Dodd, met with CCSU Police where Cunningham then pressed charges. Gula was arrested for third degree sexual assault, second degree unlawful restraint and disorderly conduct.
Gula pleaded no contest and was found guilty of second-degree unlawful restraint and first degree reckless endangerment. He was sentenced to a one‐year suspended jail sentence and two years probation.
According to Cunningham, a judge suppressed Gula’s confession because he confessed under the impression he would not be arrested. Cunningham has currently filed a civil suit against Gula and she is being represented by Nina Pirrotti.
The event took place more than three years ago, but Cunningham is still suffering from post traumatic stress.
“It has affected everything in my life. I would say prior to his crimes against me, I was a strong woman, able to overcome anything. I believed in myself. I could count on myself. Now, I live in this place that is guarded by fear of the unknown. I have never been so scared, humiliated or degraded in my whole life. I have lost my independence,” Cunningham said.
Cunningham still is haunted by what occurred at CCSU and how administrators handled it. She wants students to know of what occurs behind closed doors.
“Students and campuses have a right to know what happens on their campus. That when an institution fails to address the horrible acts of a faculty member or anyone, committing such violations of law, that the criminal court will serve justice and hold the individual accountable. I had no control over the investigation by CCSU Police. I had no idea my life would be changed forever after the crime. CCSU Police had an obligation to process this assault for the crime that it was sexual assault,” Cunningham said in the victim statement.