MEMORANDUM TO THE FACULTY: TEACHING DISTRESSED STUDENTS AFTER THE VIRGINIA TECH SHOOTING
Adapted with permission from the ASJA LAW AND POLICY REPORT,
Friday, May 11, 2007, No. 254
Following the tragic events at Virginia Tech most campuses have reviewed their policies related to the identification and management of individuals who pose a threat to the campus. One of the foremost authorities in this area is Dr. Gary Pavela of the University of Maryland-College Park. Dr. Pavela has provided a very informative and relevant brief that addresses many of the issues related to helping distressed students while at the same time protecting the university community. Faculty and staff have considerable responsibility for helping distressed students and proactively referring them to appropriate campus services. Included in this brief are recommendations for faculty to clearly define behavioral expectations to their students in each syllabus. He also identifies how faculty and staff need to respond to disruptive students.
In addition, Dr. Pavela has provided relevant findings from recent research on topics related to student disruption and violence. The following information has been adapted to provide faculty and staff insight into the identification and provision of appropriate services to students who are distressed or disturbed, and who may put themselves or members of our campus community at risk. You may navigate to a particular area of interest simply by clicking on the topics listed below.
UNDERSTANDING BEHAVIORS OF CONCERN
Let’s begin by looking at the range of behaviors that you may encounter that might cause you concern, discomfort, or that may interfere with your work or the education of other students.
It is important to try to resist the temptation to “profile” students based on media reports of past high profile incidence. However, as a faculty or staff member at ETSU, you are in an excellent position to recognize behavior changes that may characterize an emotionally troubled student.
A student’s concerning behavior, especially if it is inconsistent with your previous observations, could reflect a need for intervention or be a “cry for help."
We may think of concerning behaviors falling across a spectrum that ranges from the distressed student to the dangerous student, with the categories of disturbed and disruptive falling somewhere between the two poles. While the categories are not clear cut, and don’t necessarily unfold in a clear progression, it may be helpful to consider behavior that are most often indicative of each of these categories.
Students must be treated fairly and responsibly—just as administrators and faculty members would expect if they were the subject of comparable inquiry— but the campus is not powerless or reluctant to act decisively when threats arise. Our overall process in this regard is coordinated by Dr. Joe Sherlin, the Dean of Students (439-4210). In emergencies call the campus police first at 439-4480 or 439-6900.
What should I do if I have concerns about a student?
You will find pertinent data and general advice in this web site.? What's more important to remember is that trained colleagues are standing by to help.? The campus police will respond to threats of violence or any other violations of law or student conduct regulations. Administrators responsible for student conduct are authorized to impose an immediate suspension (pending a hearing) if a student engages in threatening or disruptive behavior. And mental health professionals can assist in conducting appropriate evaluation processes or invoke other procedures to address the behaviors of students who pose a "direct threat" to self or others.
ETSU would like to thank the following for their assistance in sharing resources which have been used to construct this resource guide for faculty and staff: