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Disruptive and Distressed Student Behavior

Introduction
Disruptive Behavior in the Classroom
Freedom of Expression
Other Violations of the Student Conduct Code
Distressed Students
Suicidal Students
Victims of Sexual Assaults
Students with Alcohol Problems
Students with Academic Needs


Introduction

Occasionally a student will behave in the classroom in a way that disrupts the class and makes teaching very difficult.  You should consult with your chair and dean for advice on how to handle these situations. The purpose of this web site is to describe other resources on campus that can help you deal with these difficult situations, to give you information which will increase your chances for successfully managing these situations, to give you information which will increase your likelihood of success if you choose to use the student disciplinary process, and to make you aware of resources which could help students exhibiting distressed behaviors.

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Disruptive Behavior in the Classroom

The Student Conduct Code, section 3.00 (Appendix A in the Student Handbook) prohibits disruptive behavior on campus, defined as “interfering with normal university sponsored activities, including, but not limited to, studying, teaching, research, university administration, disciplinary or public service activities, or fire, police or emergency services.” While it is true that some students are simply disrespectful of the classroom environment, there are other reasons why a student may be disrupting class – s/he may not understand the behavioral expectations in your class (because different faculty have different standards of conduct, or because this is his/her first experience of a college campus), s/he may not understand the consequences of violating expectations, or s/he may have a psychological problem.

Depending on the situation, there are campus resources to help you and the student. Following are recommendations for how to decrease the chances of disruptive behavior, and for how to handle disruptive behavior when it occurs.

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Freedom of Expression

It is important to distinguish between disruptive behavior and offensive speech. If a student’s behavior is disrupting the learning environment for other students, the student disciplinary process is the appropriate venue for dealing with that.  However, the university must exercise great caution in trying to regulate the content of students’ speech, as students have the same First Amendment rights as do faculty. As Bird, Macklin, and Schuster (2006, p. 16) recently pointed out, “. . . the First Amendment protects all voices, even those that someone may find irresponsible, defiant, or oppressive. For every person who finds a voice irresponsible, defiant, or oppressive, another will find it a rousing example of free speech.” Faculty have the authority and responsibility to effectively manage the classroom environment, and may determine the time and manner for student questions and expressions of relevant points of view in the instructional setting. If a student's classroom behavior "materially disrupts class work or involves substantial disorder or invasion of the rights of others," it can be regulated (Bird, Macklin, & Schuster, 2006, p. 117). Content of classroom speech which can be regulated include comments not relevant to the specific class, threats, or harassment. New faculty would do well to discuss this issue with department heads, deans, or experienced faculty to better understand how to keep discussion focused and relevant, and how to confront inappropriate students.

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Other Violations of the Student Conduct Code

If you believe that a student is violating some other section of the Student Conduct Code (Appendix A of the Student Handbook), send an e-mail report documenting the situation in as much detail as possible to Trish Causey, tcausey@westga.edu, Director of Judicial Affairs. Focusing on the behaviors of the student (“The student threatened me”) rather than on your interpretation of the student’s behavior (“I felt intimidated by the student.”), will increase the probability that the discipline process will be successful. A member of Trish Causey’s staff will then follow the student disciplinary process. Because the student is guaranteed certain due process rights, this process may not happen as quickly as you would like; however, we will conduct the process as quickly as we can.

If you ever feel that you are in danger because of the behavior of a student, call University Police immediately (678-839-6000). Police officers are on duty 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. The police officer may remove the student from the class, may arrest the student (if a law has been broken), may refer the student to the student disciplinary process if a university policy has been violated, and/or may contact the Counseling Career Development Center for consultation if the student appears to have a psychological problem.

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Distressed Students

College can be a very challenging time for some students. Faculty and staff are often in a position to observe signs of distress in students – erratic behavior, excessive class absences, declining academic performance, poor emotional control, excessive moodiness, dramatic changes in sleeping or eating habits, excessive concern about personal health, persistent depression, talking openly about suicide, or repeatedly engaging in risky behavior. While you are not always able to help students, you often have a powerful opportunity to intervene in these situations. Simply ask to talk with the student privately and express your concern about her or his well-being and success. Explain that there are resources on campus which can provide free and confidential help. You may also offer to call an office and make an appointment for the student, or walk with the student to the office. Most students respect faculty a great deal, even if they do not always demonstrate that respect; and your intervention may make the difference for that student. For more information, see Responding to Students in Distress.

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Suicidal Students

If you believe a student is in imminent danger, call University Police at 678-839-6000 (24 hours a day, 365 days a year). Signs of imminent danger would be:

If imminent danger is unclear, but you are concerned about a student, you may call any of the following three offices, to request assistance:

For more information, see Responding to Students in Distress.

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Victims of Sexual Assaults

If you believe a student has been a victim of a sexual assault, please refer the student to University Police (678-839-6428), Counseling and Career Development Center (678-839-6428), or Health Services (678-839-6452) for professional assistance. You may give the student information about these offices and encourage him/her to call them.  You may call one of these offices while the student is in your office and make an appointment for the student. Or you may offer to walk the student over to the office. You are also welcome to call either office to consult with a professional if you are concerned about a student. More information about UWG’s sexual assault prevention and response resources is available through UWG Cares.

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Students with Alcohol Problems

If you believe a student has an alcohol problem please refer the student to the Counseling and Career Development Center (678-839-6428) or Health Services (678-839-6452), for professional assistance. You may give the student information about these offices and encourage him/her to call them.  You may call either office while the student is in your office and make an appointment for the student. Or you may offer to walk the student over to the office. You are also welcome to call either office to consult with a professional if you are concerned about a student. More information about UWG’s alcohol education and alcohol treatment resources is available through the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention Team.

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Students with Academic Needs

Reference: Bird, L.E., Macklin, M.B., & Schuster, S.K. (2006): The first amendment on campus: A handbook for college and university administrators. Washington, D.C.: National Association for Student Personnel Administrators.

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