Responding to a Student's Threatening Behavior

Image of Door Knocker in shape of Fordham Ram head

cura personalis
A Guide for Faculty

Student Life Committee of the Faculty Senate
Division of Student Affairs

This guide is meant to assist faculty concerned about a student who appears threatening or potentially violent.

In recent years, highly publicized incidents of on-campus violence by students have raised awareness about the need for collaboration and clear communication among all campus constituencies to protect the campus community. Since faculty are in a position to observe student behavior that might be a precursor to violence, they can help to ensure the safety and well-being of students by being aware of and alert to potential signs. Here are guidelines addressing a range of possible scenarios of varying severity to follow when you feel you are in the presence of a student who is potentially violent.

This guide has been jointly developed for faculty by the Division of Student Affairs and the Student Life Committee of the Faculty Senate. Special assistance was provided by the Department of Public Safety and the Office of Legal Counsel. While this guide is intended to review warning signs for threatening behavior, and strategies to minimize the likelihood of threatening behavior, it is not meant to be exhaustive. Please refer to the procedure in this guide for assistance in emergencies. In addition, Public Safety has also published an Emergency Information with guidance for other related situations. In nonemergencies, contact the dean of students, Public Safety or Counseling.

At Fordham, help is just a phone call away, 24 hours every day. This brochure, designed to assist faculty confronting potential violence or other threatening behavior on campus, is one of a series of brochures. Others include Responding to Mental Health Emergencies, Responding to Students in Distress and Responding to College Student Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse.

First and foremost, trust your gut.

If you feel uncomfortable, uneasy or unsafe, contact the Department of Public Safety, or have a student do so, at:

  • (212) 636-6076 on the Lincoln Center campus
  • (718) 817-2222 on the Rose Hill campus
  • (914) 367-3001/3333 on the Westchester campus

Say “I need to speak with the supervisor immediately; this is an emergency.”
Then explain the emergency situation as clearly as possible. A public safety supervisor will immediately come to your location and take measures to ensure your safety. Public Safety supervisors are former law enforcement professionals with extensive experience.

It is wise to enter the above campus public safety phone numbers on your cell phone at the start of the semester, if you have not already done so, and to instruct your students to do the same.

If possible, without putting yourself in danger:

  • disperse the group;
  • if you are in a classroom, office or other enclosed space, position yourself as close to the door as possible; and
  • try to stay calm.

If you are waiting for Security or have not yet called, here are some suggestions for calming down an agitated student

  • If appropriate, instruct the student to calm down, and/or sit down.
  • Another option is to ask the student to move with you away from a volatile environment as this may help diffuse the student’s anger. Make sure you walk to an area that is visible to others, in case the student becomes aggressive, and that you stay close to the area to which you have called security.
  • Stay out of the student’s personal space. Keep at least four feet between you and the student. Do not corner or touch the student.
  • Listen carefully to what the student is saying. This will convey that you are genuinely interested in helping.
  • Respond appropriately.

When talking to an agitated student:

  • Introduce yourself if you do not know the student already.
  • Maintain a calm and reassuring voice. Speak calmly, but don’t do all the talking. Allow the student to vent.
  • Ask questions; this shows that you are concerned. When asking questions, use the student’s name.
  • Listen carefully to the student’s concerns and take them seriously. Paraphrasing what the student says can help show that you are listening.
  • If emotions escalate, acknowledge them. “I can see that you’re angry about the ...”
  • Maintain appropriate eye contact. A direct and uninterrupted stare may feel threatening to the student. Be natural in your gestures and speaking tone.


Resolving the Situation

If you have called Public Safety, know that they will arrive to assist you as soon as possible.

If you are able to calm the student down and feel you do not need an immediate response, discuss with the student the next step for following up. Public Safety, Counseling and Psychological Services and/or the dean of students can offer support and guidance to you and/or the student. A likely option is making an appointment for the student with the counseling office.

Because this may not be an isolated incident, and because a fuller picture of a student emerges when various administrators are alerted and can then pool their information, it is important that you also share the information with one or more of the following:

  • Your department chair
  • Appropriate class dean
  • Counseling Center
  • Department of Public Safety
  • Dean of students at each campus

The academic dean at the appropriate college or professional school should also be notified:

  • Fordham College at Rose Hill: (718) 817-4700
  • Fordham College at Lincoln Center: (212) 636-6300
  • Gabelli School of Business, Rose Hill - Undergraduate: (718) 817-4105
  • Gabelli School of Business, Lincoln Center - Undergraduate: (212) 636-7755
  • Fordham School of Professional and Continuing Studies, Lincoln Center: (212) 636-6372
  • Fordham School of Professional and Continuing Studies, Rose Hill: (718) 817-4600
  • Fordham School of Professional and Continuing Studies, Westchester: (914) 367-3301
  • Graduate School of Arts and Sciences: (718)-817-4400
  • Gabelli School of Business - Graduate: (212) 636-6111
  • Graduate School of Education: (212) 636-6406
  • School of Law: (212) 636-6875
  • Graduate School of Religion and Religious Education: (718) 817-4804
  • Graduate School of Social Service: (718) 817-4800



Dangerous Situations

Campus danger is unlikely. Nonetheless, among the potentially dangerous scenarios that should lead you to contact Public Safety immediately are the following:

  • You see someone with any type of weapon.
  • You hear unusually loud noises in your immediate vicinity.
  • You are subjected to physical assault, threats, attack, sexual assault, robbery or any other crime/offense.
  • A student threatens to assault you or someone else.

If you hear unusually loud noises:

  • If possible, seek safety in an area that can be locked from the inside. Note that most classrooms cannot be locked from the inside.
  • After contacting Public Safety, remain on the line, providing them with as much pertinent information as possible, so they can reach you quickly. Pertinent information would include the location and the nature of the noise and possible weapons involved.

In the unlikely event of being taken hostage:

  • Do not confront or challenge the perpetrator.
  • Remain as calm as possible.



Factors Contributing to Aggressive Behavior

There is no single explanation for aggressive behavior and many different factors contribute to it. Factors associated with aggressive behavior include:

  • History of physical fighting or vandalism
  • History of drug or alcohol abuse
  • Discovery of detailed plans to commit violence
  • Making direct, veiled or conditional threats of violence
  • History of controlling others
  • Excessive need for attention or respect
  • Feelings of low self-worth
  • Early childhood abuse or neglect
  • Witnessing violence at home, in the community or in the media
  • History of being bullied
  • Easy access to weapons

If you have concerns that a student might become aggressive in the future, and if you decide to speak with the student privately, use the following:

  • Leave your office door open.
  • Alert a nearby colleague in advance.
  • Be simple and direct as you speak.
  • Express your concern to the student citing the worrisome behaviors you have observed.
  • Be non-judgemental.
  • Be consistent.