Responding to the Aggressive or Potentially Violent Student

Aggression varies from threats to verbal abuse to physical violence. It is very difficult to predict aggression and violence; however, the following can be indicators or “red flags” of potential violence:

  • Paranoia.
  • Dramatic change in work or study habits.
  • Decline in personal grooming.
  • Deterioration in social relationships.
  • Impulse control problems.
  • Argumentative; talks about revenge or vengeance.
  • Grandiose; always has to be right.
  • Psychotic, delusional.
  • Emotional expression that doesn’t match context.
  • Highly disruptive behavior (hostility, aggression, etc.)
  • Strange or bizarre behavior indicating a loss of contact with reality.
  • Suicidal or other self-destructive thoughts or actions: direct or indirect; verbal or in written materials (assignments, journals, emails, etc.)
  • Homicidal threats.

What should you do when faced with a student in crisis, or one who is aggressive or potentially violent? Immediately:

  • Assess your level of safety.
  • If a student expresses a direct threat to him-or-her-self or others, or acts in a bizarre, highly irrational or disruptive manner, call or have someone call the Information Desk
  • Ask the student to leave the classroom so that you may speak away from the other students. Remain in an open area with a visible means of escape.
  • Remain calm. You stand a better chance of calming the student if you are calm.
  • Be respectful but set clear and firm limits: “I see that you are upset. I need you to sit down. For us to have a conversation, I need you to…”
  • Explain to the student the behaviors that are unacceptable.
  • Be clear and precise in the words you use.
  • Acknowledge the student’s feelings when appropriate; be reassuring.
  • Be patient and listen carefully to find out whether the student understands what you are saying. You may have to repeat yourself.
  • Be concrete. Try to identify a specific issue and suggest something that can be done to address it. For example, you may suggest that the student accompany you to the Counseling Center.
  • Use a time-out strategy (i.e. ask the student to reschedule a meeting with you once he or she has calmed down) if the student refuses to cooperate and remains agitated.
  • Dial 0 for the Information Desk; for the Dean of Student Affairs dial 3561; to access Security directly, dial 860-541-0800.


  • Staying in a situation in which you feel unsafe.
  • Meeting alone with the student.
  • Engaging in a screaming match or behaving in other ways that escalate the situation.
  • Ignoring signs that the student’s anger is escalating.
  • Crowding the student; observe his or her sense of personal space.
  • Treating the person with hostility or condescension.
  • Criticizing the student.
  • Making sudden movements.

Express your authority with non-verbal cues:

  • Sit or stand erect.
  • Smile and make eye contact.
  • Speak clearly and distinctly.

Do not:

  • Touch the student.
  • Slouch, glare, or sigh at the student.

After the incident, debrief with the Dean of Student Affairs.

For more information, contact Jessica Waterhouse, Chair of the Behavioral Intervention Team, at 860.773.1646.