Student Affairs and Enrollment Management

"Educational Excellence in a Personal Environment"

Gill Fountain

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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.
In addition to the resources described below, you may report non-emergency concerns at: http://www.westga.edu/judicial/index_7989.php

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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.

  • Clearly communicate reasonable expectations of acceptable classroom behavior at the beginning of the semester.  Examples of such expectations may include policies about cell phone use, eating in class, talking while the instructor is talking, coming late or leaving early, sleeping, etc.
  • Helpful links from other campuses about how to establish a classroom climate to minimize disruptive behavior:
  • If the student violates an expectation which has been communicated by you, or is disruptive in some other way, but does not appear to be an immediate threat, following is the recommended process for dealing with it:
    1. Tell the student to stop the behavior.
    2. If the student refuses to stop the behavior, dismiss her/him from class for the remainder of the class period. If the student refuses to leave, you may call University Police (678-839-6000) for assistance. This refusal is considered a separate violation of Section 4.04 of the Student Conduct Code, Appendix A in the Student Handbook (“Interfering with, giving false name to, or failing to cooperate with properly identified university officials acting in the performance of their duties.”)
    3. As soon as possible after the incident, inform the student in writing that the behavior is unacceptable, and that if s/he continues to violate classroom behavior guidelines, s/he may be subject to the student disciplinary process. Send a copy of this to your department chair, dean, and to Trish Causey, Assistant Dean of Students (tcausey@westga.edu). A staff member in Trish Causey’s office will investigate the incident to determine if the student is subject to the 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.
    4. If the student is disruptive in a subsequent class, dismiss her/him from class and inform her/him that s/he may not return to class until you notify him/her.
    5. As soon as possible after the second incident, submit a report at http://www.westga.edu/judicial/index_7989.php.
      If you have questions call Dr. Melanie McClellan, Vice President for Student Affairs and Enrollment Management or Ms. Trish Causey, Assistant Dean of Students.
    6. If necessary, Dr. McClellan or Ms. Causey may convene a disposition meeting with the instructor, department chair, and other appropriate university officials. This group will coordinate a plan to resolve the immediate problem (for example, moving the student to another section of the course) as well as a long-term response (such as counseling, referral to the student disciplinary process).
    7. Students may not be penalized academically until a judicial process is complete, so the instructor and department chair should make arrangements for a student to make up work in the event the student is allowed to return to the class.
  • 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 Student Development Center for consultation if the student appears to have a psychological problem.
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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 a report at http://www.westga.edu/judicial/index_7989.php. 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 Student 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.

  • If you believe a student may be suffering from a psychological or mental health problem, your primary resource would be the Student Development Center (678-839-6428). They have a staff of licensed professional counselors who work directly with students, or who will be happy to consult with you and advise you about the behavior.
  • Some students are more willing to go to a medical professional, rather than a counselor. If you refer a student to Health Services (678-839-6452), they work very closely with the Student Development Center (678-839-6428) to assure that students get the mental health care they need.
  • 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.
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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:
    • The student threatens or has inflicted harm to self that a reasonable person would regard as serious.
    • The student is believed to have ingested potentially dangerous substance(s) the amount and effect of which is uncertain.
    • The student has threatened harm to self and has been using any alcohol/drugs.
    • The extent of self-injury is unknown and the student is unresponsive to stimuli.
  • If imminent danger is unclear, but you are concerned about a student, you may call any of the following three offices, to request assistance:
    • If you believe a student may be suicidal, but there is not an immediate threat, please refer the student to the Student 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. After hours, University Police (678-839-6000) can contact on-call counselors or medical personnel.
  • 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), Student 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 the Sexual Assault Response Team.

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Students with alcohol problems

If you believe a student has an alcohol problem please refer the student to the Student 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

  • If a student appears to have difficulty writing, refer her/him to the Writing Center, staffed by English Department faculty.
  • If a student needs tutoring in any subject, consult with the EXCEL Center for Academic Success (678-839-6280).  Each Fall, the EXCEL Center also offers a series of Student Success Seminars on topics such as time management, taking notes, and goal-setting. To give students extra credit for attending these seminars, contact the EXCEL Center.
  • If a student needs individual help with reading comprehension, time management, test-taking skills, text anxiety, or other academic success skills, refer her/him to the Student Development Center (678-839-6428).
  • If a student appears to have a disability or mental health problem which is interfering with her/his academic performance, refer her/him to the Student Development Center (678-839-6428).
  • If a student appears to have a health problem which is interfering with her/his academic performance, refer the student to Health Services (678-839-6452).
  • If a student needs help choosing a major or career, s/he can go to either the EXCEL Center for Academic Success (678-839-6428) or the Student Development Center (678-839-6428).

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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