Probably all students will be distressed at some point in their academic career. For most, support and encouragement from others will suffice.
Strategies for Dealing with Difficult Situations
Faculty and staff members often have face to face contact with students. They may be the initial responders to students who are in crisis, angry, verbally abusive, or potentially dangerous. These general suggestions can be utilized with the behavior pattern “do’s” and “don’ts” identified in Part III of this page. The following guidelines provide general principles for effective verbal intervention.
- Remain Calm
Remember that the verbally escalating person is beginning to lose control. If the person senses that you are also losing control, the situation may get worse. Try to keep your emotions under control, even when challenged, insulted or threatened. This may be easier said than done, especially when a student is making threats, or using abusive language, but it is important in de-escalating the situation.
- Be Empathetic
Try not to judge or discount the feelings of others. Whether or not you think the feelings are justified, those feelings are real to the other person. You may want to acknowledge them by saying things like, “I understand that this is very frustrating for you.” or “I’m sorry that you’re feeling distressed about….”
- Watch Your Body Language
As a person becomes increasingly agitated, he or she will pay less attention to your words and more attention to your body language. Be aware of your use of space, posture, and gestures. Avoid gestures that might seem threatening. Make sure your nonverbal behavior is consistent with your verbal message.
- Respect Personal Space
Maintain a safe distance (2 – 3 feet) from an agitated person. Invading personal space tends to increase the individual’s anxiety and may lead to increased agitation.
- Keep It Simple
Be clear and direct in your message. Avoid jargon and complicated choices. A person who is beginning to lose rational control may not be processing information as he or she usually does. Complex messages may increase anxiety and make self-control more difficult.
- Set and Enforce Reasonable Limits
If the person becomes belligerent, defensive or disruptive, be sure to state limits and directives clearly and concisely. When setting limits, offer choices and consequences to the acting-out individual. For example, “If you calm down, I can continue to assist you. If not, you will need to leave.”
- Consider saying “It’s not my role to make that kind of decision here at the College. Let me locate someone who can help you.” or “It’s hard for me to understand what you are saying when you are shouting. Please lower your voice so that I can better help you.”
- Request Assistance When Necessary
- If the student is angry or demanding but you do not sense an immediate threat, he or she can receive assistance available on campus. If possible, help the student call the Health and Counseling Center at 434-544-8616 and/or the Spiritual Life Center 434.544.8348. They are great resources and are the appropriate referral places for most situations and students.
- If you perceive any threat, call University of Lynchburg Campus Safety and Security at 434-544-5555. In such situations, your safety and those of others in your area are of utmost importance. The use of telephone “code words” or alarm buttons may be a good strategy and should be discussed and developed within your department.
- Document the Incident: Submit a Student of Concern Report
Communicate Your Concerns
At LC, the Office of the Dean of Students serves as a communication hub so that information and action can be coordinated.
The Dean can take administrative action and marshal resources to intervene to protect the student and the campus community. A referral to the Counseling Center is always appropriate, but be sure to also notify the Dean of Students office.
For residential students, please contact Kristen Cooper, , Director of Residence Life, at 434.544.8320.
In emergency situations, after hours, over the weekend, or you get voice mail and you need an immediate response, please contact Campus Safety and Security at 434.544.5555 or 434.544.8100. Leave your name and number with the switchboard operator and your message will be relayed to the DOC.
For additional information or questions about students of concern, please see Guidebook and/or contact Dean Aaron Smith at in the Office of the Dean of Students at 434.544.8226.