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Managing the Difficult Student
CWC Guide> Managing the Difficult Student

In recent years there has been an escalation of students displaying concerning behaviors. These incidents have occurred in the residence halls, classrooms or offices. Often University personnel are involved in situations where they are responding to a student who disrupts a class or are recommending a referral for a student who is having personal problems. These incidents are especially alarming when they interfere with academic purpose of the institution or infringe on the rights of others. No matter how experienced a professor or administrator is, these situations which require sensitivity, insight and calm, often develop unexpectedly and may catch them unprepared. This section is designed to give a better conceptual framework to respond to those incidents. The following are not University policies, but rather helpful suggestions when responding to a difficult student.

It may be best to differentiate the students behavior into three distinct categories

1) Disturbing Behavior.
2) Disruptive Behavior.
3) Dangerous Behavior.

It is important to remember these behaviors are not exclusive, and it is entirely possible to have a student displaying signs from more than one category.

Disturbing Behavior

Usually this behavior comes to our attention, but does not necessarily negatively impact others or diminish the professor’s ability to conduct class. Examples of disturbing behaviors may include:

  • A student whose writing appears to be lacking coherence and is significantly disorganized. As if s/he is totally unaware of the topic and they are simply rambling.
  • A student who seems hung over and smells of alcohol.
  • A student who disclosed they have been victimized or traumatized.
  • A student who makes veiled references or jokes about wanting to die or kill themselves.
  • A student who is extremely nervous or anxious when taking an exam, receiving a critique or making a presentation.

Helping with Disturbing Behaviors

Because Alfred is fairly small and personable, students who are experiencing distress may be more noticeable than in other academic communities. A sign of such stress is a change in the student’s “typical” behaviors—i.e. being late, missing assignments, requests for extensions. Since our faculty and staff are highly accessible, students often seek them out for advice or help when they are feeling overwhelmed.

There are many options for responding to student behavior that is disturbing. The options include: doing nothing, initiating a private conversation with the student, consulting with a colleague and/or referring the student to the Counseling and Wellness Center.

It is most preferable to risk communicating concerns directly with the student and in private. Often times they are unaware that their behavior is noticeable and welcome suggestions on resources available. An additional advantage is that early intervention may diminish the escalation of the problem. Suggestions for getting started include:

1. Describe the concerning behavior.
2. Explore what may be causing their behavior.
3. Reiterate what you heard them say.
4. Suggest options they can consider.

This can include using the University Counseling and Wellness Center. If the student is not ready to use professional counseling, some other sources of help may be useful (parents, clergy, trusted adult, etc.). If you are unsure of the appropriate place to send the student and want referral information, call the Counseling and Wellness Center (2300 from a campus, 607-871-2300 from a cell phone) and ask to speak to a staff member about various campus resources.

Disruptive Behaviors

This is when the student’s behavior interferes with the academic process, the living/learning environment or the rights of others. Even though the student may not be responsive to intervention, some level of action is recommended. Examples of disruptive behavior include:

  • A student who threatens violence.
  • A student who is verbally abusive.
  • A student who physically acts out toward University property.
  • A student who impedes the educational process of the class.
  • A student who does not follow proper safety procedures (in lab, studios, etc) and is non-responsive to directions.

Helping with Disruptive Behaviors

Maintaining a safe environment is always the first priority. If you are concerned about safety, call campus security at 2108 from a campus phone, 607-871-2108 from other your cell phone or Alfred Police at 9-911, from a campus phone or 911 from your cell phone. Talk with the student, preferably in private. If you are fearful of violence, ask a colleague to be present. Inform the student of the specific behavior(s) that need to change, a timeline of when the change needs to be made, and detail the consequences if the change does not occur. Follow through with the consequences if the agreed changes do not transpire. After the meeting, write down a detailed description of the events. It is usually beneficial to provide the student with a written copy of the expectations and consequences.

Other procedures for intervention include:

  • Verbal request to stop the behavior.
  • Verbal request to leave the class.
  • Dismissing the class.
  • Call Public Safety (2108 or 607-871-2300 from a cell phone).
  • Consult with Department Chair.
  • Consult with Dean of Student’s Office (2134 or 607-871-2300 from a cell phone).

Dangerous Behaviors

While rare, every college campus occasionally has a student who engages in dangerous behaviors. Their, and your, personal safety is paramount. Dialogue is not as high of a priority as getting help to defuse the crisis. When a student’s behavior becomes threatening:

1. Provide a safe, quiet, secure place for the individual.
2. Maintain a straightforward, supportive attitude.
3. Do not leave the individual alone if they are violent or disruptive.
4. Make arrangements for assistance by contacting:
   a. CWC Counseling Services: 2300 from a campuys phone or 607-871-2300 from your cell phone, for consultation.
   b. Public Safety: 2108 from a campus phone or 607-871-2108 from a cell phone, if the student is unduly aggressive, hostile or otherwise unmanageable.
   c. Alfred Police Department 9-911 from a campus phone or 911 from a cell phone.