In all of the examples below, one option, and sometimes the best option, is to refer the student to Counseling Services. In other situations where you feel there is immediate danger to someone you should call Campus Safety. If in doubt and you feel you need assistance, call a member of the CARE team.
The Anxious Student
Anxiety is a normal response to a perceived danger, but perceptions aren’t universal and a student’s anxiety may or not make sense to you. The student may be feeling any number of things – they cannot do something requested, cannot meet what they feel are high expectations or may be experiencing a blow to their self-esteem. Because anxiety is often accompanied by physical symptoms – sweating, muscle tenseness or in more extreme cases breathing difficulties and dizziness, it is often easy to notice when you have an anxious student.
- Sometimes just letting them talk can be helpful and can help them vent their feelings, have a witness to the struggle they’re experiencing.
- Reassure them when it is appropriate.
- Don’t overwhelm them with information or make things complicated.
- Be clear about what you can or cannot do.
- Remain calm and don’t take responsibility for their emotional state.
- Keep the information you give them simple.
The Depressed Student
The depressed student generally shows many signs they are depressed. Their general functioning is affected. They may be lethargic, ill-kempt and express feeling of guilt, worthlessness and low self-esteem. Because of sleep disruption they may be frequently late to class or have many absences and look visibly unwell. Depressed people often have trouble concentrating and everything takes more effort which can create feelings of hopelessness.
- Let them know you’ve noticed that they don’t seem to be doing as well and that you are concerned.
- Reassurances and Comments like “Tomorrow things will be better,” “Don’t worry” or “It could be worse” though well meaning aren’t very helpful to a depressed person.
- If you suspect the student is suicidal, ask them.
The Grieving Student
When someone loses a person, pet, relationship, or job their grief can make regular functioning difficult. Other students may be dealing with their own or a family member’s life threatening illness.
- If you feel it is appropriate, consider giving them extra time to complete work.
- Don’t be afraid of tears – crying is normal.
The Sexually Assaulted Student
Studies suggest that 20-25% of college women are survivors of rape or sexual assault. Sexual assault victims include men and women and occur in relationships between men and men and women and women as well as between men and women. The impact of sexual violence can have a profound impact on a student’s psychological, physical, social and spiritual health.
- If a student tells you he/she has been sexually assaulted, take the matter seriously; your initial reaction is critical.
- Be empathic.
- Don’t promise confidentiality. Students may be reluctant to talk to the police or campus safety, and while it is important to protect the student’s confidentiality, it is also important to make sure that others who have some experience in these cases also have the information, especially if there is a potential for further violence. Gently encourage the student to talk to someone at campus safety, or call the police or to talk to someone at counseling services. The most important concern is for the student’s health and safety.
The Verbally Aggressive Student
Students who are verbally aggressive are often angry because they feel they have lost control over a situation and they project their anger onto other students, their instructor and others. Verbally aggressive students may send you an email, call or talk to you in your class or office.
- Deal with these students, if possible, one on one and away from others. Taking away their audience is often very effective in getting them to talk more reasonably.
- If it happens during class, let the student know that you will not discuss the issues during class and they can speak with you after class.
- One on one acknowledge their anger and see if you can help the student identify the reason for their anger. If they are unwilling to talk about this or become more agitated, don’t press them to explain.
- Be supportive, honest, and calm.
- Don’t touch the student and ask them to step back if you feel they are too close to you.
The Physically Aggressive Student
Students who are physically aggressive are the students no one wants to deal with because they scare us. Incidents of aggression and violence in the classroom should be met with immediate, non-aggressive consequences.
- Recognize cues, signals, or other stimuli that usually precede a violent episode may help to prevent a crisis. These signs will differ from student to student, but may include any or several of the following: turning red, clenching fists, cursing, crying, sudden silence, glaring, narrowing of eyes, hyperventilation, increase in heart rate, strange noises, or any other extreme change in behavior.
- Acknowledge the intensity of the situation – “I can see you are very upset.”
- Explain what behaviors are acceptable – “I understand you’re angry, but disrupting the class, yelling, etc. is not OK.”
- Request the student leave your class/office – you have the right to ask students who are disrupting your class to leave.
- Be aware of your tone of voice and your body language – try to convey you are calm and in control.
- Call Campus Safety if the situation is severe. If you’re teaching off campus, call 911. If you ever feel you are in immediate danger on or off campus, call 911.
- Report any violent behavior to your department chair and follow through with a Code of Conduct complaint.
The Substance Abusing Student
National surveys suggest that substance abuse is a contributor to many problems for college students including missed classes, poor academics, relationship violence, criminal acts, sexual assault and others.
- If you see signs of alcohol or other drug abuse or you suspect a student has a substance abuse problem because of deteriorating academics, behavioral signs (slurred speech, stumbling)or for other reasons, share your concern with the student and discuss it in terms of their behavior.
- Encourage the student to see someone to talk in Counseling Services about their substance use/abuse.
- Don’t lecture the student or accuse them.
The Suicidal Student
Although it is not uncommon to feel sad, hopeless or depressed, it is not common for a person to seriously consider ending their life. The American College Health Association (ACHA, 2006), in a survey of over 46,000 college students across 74 college campuses, found that 10.1% of students reported that they seriously considered attempting suicide and 1.4% reported attempting suicide in the prior year.
- Know the warning signs – hopelessness, rage, uncontrolled anger, or seeking revenge, acting reckless or engaging in risky activities, seemingly without thinking. They express they are feeling trapped – like there’s no way out, increased alcohol or drug use, withdrawing from friends, family and society, anxiety, agitation, unable to sleep or sleeping all the time, dramatic mood changes, expressing no reason for living or no sense of purpose in life.
- If someone makes a threat or says they are going to kill themselves, take them seriously – 80% of completed suicides gave some warning to others.
- If you suspect a student is thinking of killing themselves, ASK.
- If a student is suicidal, walk them to Counseling Services.
The Threatening Student
Direct threats or ones that are implied are to be taken very seriously. Threatening phone calls emails, stalking or physical aggression is all potentially very serious.
- Don’t meet alone with a student who has threatened you.
- If in the course of meeting with a student you feel they are threatening, you should terminate the meeting.
- Call campus safety to intervene.