Aggressive or Potentially Violent Students

Responding to the Aggressive or Potentially Violent Student

Aggression varies from threats to verbal abuse to physical violence. It is very difficult to predict aggression and violence; however, the following can be indicators or "Red Flags" of potential violence:

  • Paranoia
  • Dramatic change in work or study habits
  • Decline in personal grooming
  • Deterioration in social relationships
  • Impulse control problems
  • Argumentative; talks about revenge or vengeance
  • Grandiose; always has to be right
  • Psychotic, delusional
  • Emotional expression that doesn't match context
  • Highly disruptive behavior (hostility, aggression, etc.)
  • Strange or bizarre behavior indicating a loss of contact with reality
  • Suicidal or other self-destructive thoughts or actions: direct or indirect verbal or in written materials (assignments, journals, emails, etc.)
  • Homicidal threats

What should you do when faced with a student in crisis, or one who is aggressive or potentially violent? Immediately

  1. Assess your level of safety. If a student expresses a direct threat to him-or-her-self or others, or acts in a bizarre, highly irrational or disruptive manner, call or have someone call Public Safety (206) 296-5911.
  2. Ask the student to leave the classroom so that you may speak away from the other students. Remain in an open area with a visible means of escape.
    Remain calm. You stand a better chance of calming the student if you are calm.
  3. Explain to the student the behaviors that are unacceptable. Be respectful, but set clear and firm limits: "I see that you are upset. I need you to sit down. For us to have a conversation, I need you to…" Be clear and precise in the words you use. Acknowledge the student's feelings when appropriate; be reassuring. Be patient and listen carefully to find out whether the student understands what you are saying. You may have to repeat yourself. Be concrete. Try to identify a specific issue and suggest something that can be done to address it. For example, you may suggest that the student accompany you to the Counseling Center.
  4. Use a time-out strategy (i.e. ask the student to reschedule a meeting with you once he or she has calmed down) if the student refuses to cooperate and remains agitated.

Contact the CARE Team ( or Counseling and Psychological Services, (206) 296-6090.


  • Staying in a situation in which you feel unsafe.
  • Meeting alone with the student.
  • Engaging in a screaming match or behaving in other ways that escalate the situation.
  • Ignoring signs that the student's anger is escalating.
  • Crowding the student; observe his or her sense of personal space.
  • Treating the person with hostility or condescension.
  • Criticizing the student.
  • Making sudden movements.

Express your authority with non-verbal cues

  • Sit or stand erect.
  • Smile and make eye contact.
  • Speak clearly and distinctly.

Do not

  • Touch the student.
  • Slouch, glare, or sigh at the student.

After the incident, debrief with department chair or dean, Public Safety Officer, and/or a member of CARE Team.