A longtime adjunct professor at Dominican University in River Forest was fired after an alleged assault on African American sociology professor Chavella Pittman during an August faculty workshop on diversity. 

On Aug. 16, Pittman was leading a workshop in inclusive teaching when adjunct professor and Franciscan Sister Felicia H. Wolf “tapped” her on the forehead with her right hand, according to a police report Pittman filed with River Forest police.

According to the police report:

“Pittman stated she knelt down next to faculty member Felicia Wolf and was attempting to review the handwritten statement she made for class. Pittman stated Wolf said I don’t like talking about diversity because bringing it up is like saying I am better than diverse people. Pittman said Wolf then tapped her twice on the forehead twice with her right hand. Pittman stated the tap was loud enough for other faculty in the room to hear.

“Pittman said she told Wolf this is not OK; you cannot be doing this and hitting me, this is an intellectual and important subject. Pittman then removed herself from the room because she wanted to keep a professional demeanor and separate herself from the situation.

“Pittman stated two other coworkers witnessed this, Linda Durack and Sheila Bauer Gatsos. Pittman relayed she notified her supervisor (school dean) Chad Rohman. Pittman stated she wanted this documented only and did not want further police services at this time.” 

Pittman requested no further police action be taken beyond documentation. Neither Pittman, Wolf nor witnesses responded to requests for comments. 

After the incident was reported to officials, Dominican University Provost Laura Niesen de Abruña terminated Wolf.

In an email to faculty on Aug. 26, she presented a formal statement with the subject reading, “Message Regarding Campus Climate,” summarizing the incident, including the debrief for faculty members her and Precious Porras, chief diversity officer, hosted for faculty members who attended the workshop.

Niesen said: 

“As you know, a bedrock of our value system is that all human beings deserve equal dignity. I am going to jump right in to share my sense that we missed that mark last week. At a workshop on inclusive pedagogy, a faculty member assaulted the facilitator during a breakout session. I moved immediately to contact the victim, to interview her and witnesses, and to terminate the individual who committed the assault.

“Because the victim is a person of color, I was concerned about what this says about the climate of inclusion and belongingness on our campus. This morning, Precious Porras and I invited those who attended that workshop to join in a debrief that was facilitated by members of an outside DEI consultancy. There was unanimous support for me to make a statement to the faculty at large about this incident.

“Under my leadership, there will be zero tolerance for assault or bullying. In addition, we will not tolerate aggressive behavior of colleagues toward one another in meetings, hallways, classrooms, or elsewhere.”

When asked for a formal interview with the Star, Niesen declined to comment. Instead, she directed the Star to Executive Director of Marketing and Communications Stephanie Kubas, who provided the university’s official statement on the matter.  

The statement reads: 

“At the heart of Dominican University is our Catholic, Dominican tradition, which affirms that all human beings deserve equal dignity. With this guiding principle, we respond to every report of assault with urgency.  

“At a recent faculty workshop on inclusive pedagogy, a part-time faculty member assaulted the facilitator during a breakout session. We took immediate action by removing the offender from the workshop and campus. A formal internal investigation began immediately, which included interviews with both the victim and witnesses. Based on the results of the investigation, the faculty member was terminated and banned from campus.

“Our concern for the victim is our priority and leads our response to this unacceptable incident. ‘Under my leadership, there is zero tolerance for assault or bullying,’ said provost Laura Niesen de Abruña. ‘We will not tolerate aggressive behavior toward one another in meetings, hallways, classrooms, or elsewhere. We need to live up to our Catholic value of making everyone on campus feel safe and welcome.’  

“A hallmark of our community is a commitment to open dialogue around difficult topics. Faculty who attended the workshop in which the incident occurred were invited to join in a debrief that was facilitated by members of an outside DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) consultancy. We continue to encourage productive discourse around this and other challenging issues.”

Wolf had been a faculty member at Dominican since 2005, teaching classes such as religion and conflict. The Star attempted to receive a comment from her multiple times and was unsuccessful.

Azhley Rodriguez is editor-in-chief of the Dominican Star.

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