As a faculty or staff member you may find yourself having to contend with a disruptive or emotionally disturbed student at some point during your career, a trend being experienced nationally. Student behaviors that you may encounter range from simple disruptions in class, to ongoing harassment, or verbal and physical threats.
The recommendations detailed here are designed to:
- assist your department in thinking through its response to situations in which students may behave in unusual or unpredictable ways;
- help you handle an actual threat;
- assist you with referral and protocol procedures.
When faculty and staff adequately prepared for such situations, the chances of serious disruption may be lessened. Students may exhibit disruptive behavior in a classroom, lab, department, office or anywhere on campus. Faculty or staff members may find themselves on the receiving end of a student's anger or frustration. Often the behavior in question constitutes a violation of the Student Code of Conduct, and able to be addressed in accordance with Student Conduct procedures. However, it is rarely enough to simply hand a situation over to Student Conduct and Community Standards when a student has caused significant disruption within a department. The department or office involved may also need to address issues related to the perceived safety of its faculty and staff, as well as the well-being of other students.
A student is considered disruptive when he or she engages in behaviors which interfere in a significant way with your normal teaching or administrative duties as a faculty or staff member. Disruptive behavior may sometimes threaten or endanger your physical or psychological well-being or safety, or that of others. Disruptive behavior can assume many forms. It may be:
- A student in your class who persistently arrives late or leaves early in a manner which is disruptive to the regular flow of the class.
- A student who talks incessantly while you are delivering a lecture.
- A student who loudly and frequently interrupts the flow of class with inappropriate questions or interjections.
- A student who persistently calls your office and hampers your ability to continue your normal work, or to assist other students.
- A student who becomes belligerent when you confront his or her inappropriate behavior.
- A student who verbally or physically threatens you, another faculty or staff member, or another student.
- A student who writes you a threatening letter, email, or leaves a disturbing message on your voicemail.
- A student who attempts to contact you at your home in inappropriate ways.
- A student who displays behaviors indicating a romantic or other obsessive interest in you.
Three Levels of Threatening or Disrutpive Behavior
For the purposes of these guidelines, disruptive and threatening behavior has been categorized into three different levels.
- The first level, which is the least serious, encompasses any situation that can be handled informally between you and the student, leading to a prompt resolution. (Level 1 Details)
- The second level involves an ongoing problem, or a more serious incident in the classroom. In these situations, you may consult with Student Affairs. If necessary, a Student Affairs assessment team will assist you in evaluating and resolving the situation. (Level 2 Details)
- The third, and most serious, level is reached when there is immediate danger of some kind. If this occurs, you should call the Campus Police immediately at (314) 516-5155. (Level 3 Details)
Adapted from the University of Southern California's Disruptive & Threatening Student Behavior: Guidelines for Faculty and Staff. Their guidelines can be found at USC Guidelines.