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Dealing with Disruptive or Threatening Students: A Guide for Faculty and Staff

 

For a printable PDF version, please click here.

 
University faculty and staff sometimes face student behavior that challenges their ability to maintain an effective and safe learning or work environment. The following information offers tips on responding to the disruptive or threatening student. Also, various campus offices can support faculty and staff in dealing with these situations. Feel free to consult with the campus resources listed at the end of this virtual brochure.
 
If a student behaves inappropriately with you or makes you feel uneasy, it may be helpful to discuss your concerns with someone else. Your department chair or office director may be a resource, and the Office of Student Life, the University Counseling and Testing Center, and the Department of Public Safety (DPS) are available to assist you. Frequently, just talking with another professional will clarify the issues and help you resolve the problem.

What is disruptive behavior?

Disruptive behavior is student behavior that interferes with or interrupts the educational process of other students or the normal business functions of the University. For specific examples of disruptive behavior click here.

Strategies to Discourage Disruptive Classroom Behavior

While there are some specific tactics for dealing with disruptive students, faculty may prevent some of this behavior from occurring by creating a positive classroom environment at the outset. You may already have put into practice some of these strategies1: For a list of strategies to discourage disruptive classroom behavior, click here.

Responding to Disruptive Behavior

Suppose you have already worked hard to create a positive learning environment and disruptive behavior arises in class, what then?   While every situation is unique and each instructor has a unique level of tolerance and preferred style for dealing with student behavior, here are some suggestions you may find helpful.

Meeting with a Disruptive or Angry Student

How this meeting goes will depend upon your interpersonal skills as well as the student’s ability to develop rapport and participate in a calm discussion. Here are some suggestions for your meeting. 

Dealing with Disruptive or Rude Behavior in Other University Settings

There are things that can be done to deal with disruptive behavior in other settings on campus outside the classroom.  For some strategies, click here.

Dealing with a Suspicious Student

Usually these students perceive that they are being mistreated and are apt to lodge complaints. They tend to be tense, cautious, and mistrustful and may have few friends. They often interpret a minor oversight as a personal slight or a sign of prejudice against them, and they overreact to insignificant occurrences. They see themselves as the focal point of everyone’s behavior, and everything that happens has a special meaning for them. Often they are preoccupied with fairness and being treated equally. Disavowing responsibility for their own behavior, they often blame others for their difficulties. Underneath, they may feel inadequate and even worthless.  For tips to deal with a suspicious student.
 

Threatening or Violent Behavior

Violence in the workplace can take many forms — from a colleague or student who exhibits dangerous or threatening behavior to abusive relationships between partners or family members to random acts of violence by members of the public with no connection to the campus.
When behaviors become intimidating or threatening, you may feel anxious, afraid and concerned for your personal safety.  It is important not to manage such a situation alone. Various offices on campus can assist you, including those listed at the end of this resource.  For some examples of threatening behavior, click here.

Predicting Violent Behavior

The best predictor of violent behavior is past violence. Since it’s unlikely you will be privy to such history, however, it’s important for you to pay attention to current behavior. Warning Signs

How do deal with threatening or violent behavior

Always call for help if you or others are in imminent danger.
For tips to deal with threatening behavior, click
here.

Three Levels of Response3

As you assess the situation, consider the following three levels of response. The level of response required may change as the situation unfolds. Be sure to trust your intuition, and when a situation feels potentially violent, consider a higher level of response.

     Level One: Attempt to defuse situation
     Level Two: Get assistance from others nearby
      Level Three: Get yourself to a safe location

For more information on how to respond, click here.
 

Dealing with an Ongoing or Evolving Threat

 Make sure that you document threatening behavior for possible future reference. Include name of student, date, time and place of incident, describing incidents in behavioral terms. Use quotes for verbal threats.

Campus Resources

Several offices on campus can assist you in dealing with disruptive, threatening or violent students. 
 

Office of the Dean of Students

346-3216

The Office of the Dean of Students can consult with you, meet with a student, and enforce violations of the Student Conduct Code. If a student is disruptive with you, the student is very likely causing problems elsewhere. The Office of the Dean of Students is able to gather information from a variety of sources and can convene the Dean’s Consultation Committee to decide on a course of action.

 
 
University Counseling & Testing Center
 
346-3227
 
The Counseling & Testing Center is available, from Monday to Friday 8:00 a.m. to 5 p.m., to consult with you about students who are of concern to you, perhaps because they appear to be at risk to others or themselves.
 
 
Department of Public Safety

346-5444
Emergency Only: 346-6666
 
The Department of Public Safety can dispatch officers to respond to immediate threats. They can work with you to help create a safe office, department or classroom.  They also can consult with you regarding persons who are not UO students.
 
 
Employee Assistance Program: Cascade Centers
 
1-800-433-2320
 
The Employee Assistance Program offers no cost, brief, confidential counseling to UO employees. 
 
           
1Adapted from: “Dealing with Rude and Disruptive Students: Being Proactive,” by Ken Jones of St. John’s University
2Source: Safe Campus, University of Washington
3Adapted from: “Depression Awareness and Suicide Prevention Training” – an online training offered by the University Health Services at the University of California, Berkeley.
 
We consulted the following additional resource materials in developing this virtual brochure:
Assisting the Emotionally Distressed Student: A Guide for Staff and Faculty, University Health Services Counseling and Psychological Services, University of California, Berkeley
Dealing with Disruptive Students in the Classroom, The Office of Student Life, Northern Arizona University
Disruptive and Threatening Student Behavior: Guidelines for Faculty and Staff, Division of Student Affairs, University of Southern California
Managing Difficult Student Behavior: Guidelines for Faculty and Staff, The Office of the Dean of Students & The University Counseling Center, University of Utah
Tips For Dealing With Disruptive Students, Counseling Services, University of Missouri – St. Louis