In all of the examples below, one option, and sometimes the best option, is to refer the student to the Counseling Center. In other situations where you feel there is immediate danger to someone you should call 911. If in doubt and you feel you need assistance, call a member of the Counseling Center of any member of the Behavioral Intervention Team (BIT).
The Anxious Student
Anxiety is a normal response to a perceived danger, but perceptions are not universal and a student's anxiety may or may 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 are experiencing.
- Reassure them when it is appropriate.
- Do not overwhelm them with information or make things complicated.
- Be clear about what you can or cannot do.
- Remain calm and do not take responsibility for their emotional state.
- Keep the information you give them simple.
The Depressed Student
The depressed student generally shows many signs that they are depressed. Their general functioning is affected. They may be lethargic, ill-kempt, and express feelings 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 have noticed that they do not 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, are not very helpful to a depressed person. These are examples of what not to do. You should ask the student, “What action can you take that might make a difference or change your situation?” or “What have you been successful in most recently?”
- If you suspect the student is suicidal, ask the student.
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.
- Acknowledge the loss.
- If you feel it is appropriate, consider giving them extra time to complete work.
- Do not 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. Sexual violence, including types such as coercion, assault, and rape, are all forms of sexual harassment. Sexual harassment is discrimination on the basis of sex.
- If a student tells you he/she has been sexually assaulted, take the matter seriously; your initial reaction is critical.
- Be empathic.
- Do not promise confidentiality. Students may be reluctant to talk to the police, 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 potential for further violence. Gently encourage the student to talk to someone, or call the police, or to talk to someone at the Counseling Center or Health Center. The most important concern is for the student's health and safety.
- Remember that under Title IX you must report the incident (names are not required) to the Title IX Coordinator (Barry Swanson, campus security consultant, at 716.338.1015), or the Title IX Deputy Coordinator (Paula Snyder, Director of the Health Center at 716.376.7569).
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 e-mail, 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. Read more about classroom civility.
- 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, do not press them to explain.
- Be supportive, honest, and calm.
- Do not touch the student, and ask them to step back if you feel they are too close to you.
- Develop a behavioral contract with the student to define classroom expectations.
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.
- If you ever feel that you or others are in immediate danger, call 911.
- 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 are angry, but disrupting the class, yelling, etc. is not okay."
- 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.
- Report any violent behavior to your department chair and follow through with a Code of Conduct complaint (found in the Student Constitution).
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 the Counseling Center or Health Center about their substance use/abuse.
- Do not lecture the student or accuse them.
- Be aware that specific educational programs at JCC (nursing, occupational therapy, piloting, human services, etc.) have specific regulations regarding the use of drugs and alcohol.
- If the student appears to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol, they should be medically transported to a hospital. If the student refuses the transport, call 911.
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 National Center for the Prevention of Youth Suicide (NCPYS 2011) found that suicide is a leading cause of death among youth attending colleges and universities. The study found that approximately 18% of undergraduates reported having seriously considered a suicide attempt at some point. A 2009 study by the American College Health Association found that 1% of college students reported attempting suicide in the prior year.
- Know the warning signs - hopelessness, rage, uncontrolled anger, seeking revenge, acting recklessly or engaging in risky activities, seemingly without thinking. They express they are feeling trapped - like there is 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, “Are you thinking of killing yourself?”
- If a student is suicidal, walk them to the Counseling Center. If it is after hours, don’t leave them alone. Call the national suicide crisis hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255).
For more resources on recognizing the warning signs of potential suicide please visit:
The Threatening Student
Direct threats or threats that are implied are to be taken very seriously. Threatening phone calls, e-mails, stalking or physical aggression is all potentially very serious.
- Do not 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 911 if you feel you are in immediate danger.