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Students usually become aggressive in situations they perceive as beyond their control. Sometimes feelings of anger are displaced from the situation onto the nearest target (e.g., you).
If a student becomes violent, remain calm and get help if necessary (send a student for a staff person, faculty member, department chair, or police officer). Stay safe by retaining access to a door, knowing whom to call (University Police 406-657-2222), and keeping furniture (e.g., a desk) between you and the student. Do not threaten, corner, or touch the student.
Take all threats of violence seriously. Clarify what is meant by asking, "What do you mean by that?" or saying, "I am taking your words very seriously." Call University Police for consultation; inform your supervisor or department head of the situation.
- Pay attention to the warning signs (e.g., body language, clenched fists).
- Acknowledge the student's anger and frustration ("I hear how angry you are.").
- Rephrase what he or she is saying and identify the emotion ("I can hear how upset you are, and you feel like nobody will listen.").
- Reduce stimulation by inviting the student to a quiet place, if you feel safe.
- Be straightforward and firm about the types of behavior you will not accept ("I need for you to step back.").
- If the situation appears to be escalating consider removing yourself from the situation and calling University Police.
- If you become desperate and are convinced you will be harmed if you don't capitulate, say whatever you need to in order to escape to safety, even if you don't mean it, (e.g., "Okay, I guess I can see your point and will give you a passing grade.").
- Debrief the incident with your supervisor or department chair.
- Becoming defensive or getting into an argument or shouting match.
- Pressing for an explanation of their behavior.
- Acting hostile or punitive ("I'm going to give you an F in this class.").
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