Counseling Center

Violent/verbally aggressive

Violence and the Verbally Aggressive Student

Many campuses are concerned with the number of incidents regarding strong verbal aggression and violent behavior. It is helpful to know some indicators for this type of behavior and develop personal action plans should it occur.  The most accurate predictor of violent behavior is past violent behavior. If an individual has a history of such behavior, she or he is more likely than someone with no history to engage in it again. Since it is unusual for you to be privy to such information, it is necessary for you to be attentive to current behavior. While there are no absolute indicators of potential violence, it is useful to be aware of signs of distress that could possibly escalate to the level of violent behavior. Risk factors include hostile, suspicious, and agitated behavior, as well as delusions, hallucinations, and other signs of poor contact with reality. Verbal communication may be loud and pressured. In the face of this behavior you should try to remain calm. Taking some deep breaths will help, as will relaxing the muscles. Your posture should be alert with your hands in front of you. Keep your voice low and be aware of everything in the room, including the exit.

It is helpful to:

  • Maintain a posture that is poised, ready to move quickly but not fearful.
  • Avoid physical contact or use only in a defensive manner.
  • Maintain a voice quality that is matter-of-fact, monotone.
  • Use clear, assertive statements of consequences; repeat as necessary.
  • Do not attempt to resolve the student’s concern at that moment; instead, aim to de-escalate the situation and create a scenario in which you will have back-up support.
  • If possible, leave an unobstructed exit for yourself and the agitated student.

Once the student/individual leaves your area, be sure to debrief with your immediate supervisor or department chair. The counselors in the Counseling Center are also available for consultation. In addition, you may wish to report the incident to the Safe Campus hotline (685-SAFE).

The campus police at 206-543-9331 (UW dispatch, non-emergencies, 24 hours) or 911 (emergencies) are a good resource and may be called at any time. The level of police involvement is determined on a case-by-case basis. Finally, and for your own well-being, take any threats seriously and be prepared to act accordingly.