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:
- 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.
- 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.