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Managing Disruptive Behavior

Disruptive behavior is defined as repeated, continuous, and/or multiple student behaviors that hamper the ability of University staff, faculty, and students to engage in normal activities. In the classroom, this could include behaviors that disrupt the ability of instructors to teach and students to learn. Outside of the classroom, disruptive behaviors might prevent staff from completing assigned duties and/or students from utilizing facilities (for example, a student's belongings are scattered across the library, preventing other students from using study tables).

A disruptive behavior calls attention to the student through overtly inappropriate actions, such as verbal threats or assaults on others, damage to University property, habitual interference with the learning and/or living environment by disruptive verbal or behavioral expressions, or persistent inordinate demands for time and attention from faculty of staff. As the name implies, disruptive behaviors disturb the functioning of the University community. Students who engage in disruptive behavior may benefit from speaking to the Counseling Center if this helps the student resolve whatever has caused the disruptive behaviors (e.g. lack of awareness of one's impact on the community). However, other students' disruptive behaviors are better addressed through the student conduct process.

A student who engages in disruptive behaviors may or may not be emotionally distressed. The emotionally distressed student may be nervous, anxious, tired, depressed, withdrawn, confrontational, or some combinatory thereof. Many emotionally distressed students will never engage in disruptive behaviors and their emotional distress may not be known to faculty of staff. However, some emotionally distressed students may "act out" by engaging in disruptive behaviors. Faculty and staff should be particularly concerned about a dramatic change in a student's behavior, as this may be a sign of increasing emotional distress. For instance, a student who has been outgoing and friendly, but suddenly seems sullen, irritable, and withdrawn, may be experiencing depression or anxiety. In these cases, the student may benefit from speaking to the Counseling Center.

Examples of Disruptive Behavior:

  • Excessive noise that interferes with others' activities (talking, music, television)
  • Monopolizing classroom discussions or the use of common spaces like lounges, study rooms, and outdoor spaces
  • Overt inattentiveness in class (sleeping, texting, reading the paper)
  • Poor personal hygiene
  • Profanity
  • Failing to respect the rights of others to express their viewpoints
  • Making discriminatory, harassing, and/or bullying comments to other students, faculty, or staff (phone/text or online via social networking sites)

Immediately contact campus police if the disruptive behavior involves:

  • Public intoxication
  • Destruction of university and/or personal property
  • Threats to harm oneself or others
  • Reason to believe the student has a weapon in his/her possession
  • Physical violence or threats of physical violence

Possible Code of Student Rights, Responsibilities and Conduct Charges for Disruptive Behavior

Under certain circumstances, disciplinary action may be necessary. The following conduct rules are the most frequently used for disruptive behavior.

  • Breach of Peace
  • Bullying
  • Disorderly or Disruptive Conduct
  • Endangering Health or Safety of Another Person
  • Endangering Health or Safety of Campus Community
  • Failure to Comply
  • Incivility Through Language or Actions
  • Physical Altercation/Fighting

Go to Student Handbook/Forms to learn more.

Talking to emotionally distressed students

Contact Public Safety immediately if:

  • The student has threatened to hurt or kill himself/herself
  • The student has been violent or threatened violence against another person
  • The staff/faculty member feels threatened by the student (verbal threats, physical, or on-line aggression)
  • The student has or may have a weapon
  • The student has destroyed property
  • The student appears intoxicated

Campus Police will assess the student to assure the safety of the student and the rest of the University community. If appropriate, Campus Police will ask the Counseling Center to consult with the student once the security of the student and the community has been established.

In other instances where a student appears to be emotionally distressed, if you feel comfortable addressing the student directly, ask to speak to the student privately. If you are not comfortable addressing the student directly, consult with your supervisor, department chair, or the University Counseling Center about how to proceed. Do not assume that the behavior will go away on its own. It is important that someone speaks with the student as soon as the behavior is noticed to help facilitate early interventions that prevent problems from escalating into emergencies.

Tips for faculty in managing classroom disruption

  • Include course and behavioral norms and expectations for you and your students in the syllabi.
  • On the first day of class, ask your students what they think the behavior norms and expectations should be and add their suggestions to your list. You will find that students are often the strongest supporters of classroom decorum.
  • Discuss the norms and expectations with your student so they can gain an in-depth understanding of how they should act in your class.
  • Draw up a "contract" on classroom behavior, including academic integrity, and ask students to read and sign it the first week of class.
  • Courts have supported faculty and their rights to establish not only academic standards for students but behavioral standards in the classroom as well. However, before a student can be officially sanctioned for their behavior, certain due process protections must be followed, up to and including a hearing. To discuss or pursue disciplinary charges, contact the Office of Student Conduct at 412.396.6642.

Suggestions for an effective conversation with an emotionally distressed student

  • Convey your concerns to the student in a caring and respectful manner by speaking with the student in private, maintain a calm tone of voice, and sitting down together so that both of you are at an equal level.
  • Share your observations of the problem behavior, without judging or commenting on the student's character. Be concrete: "Sue, I've noticed that you don't seem to speak to people anymore and that you look really tire every day. Has something changed in your life? Or "Joe, you seem very agitated and restless when we talked earlier. Is everything okay?"
  • Avoid giving simple solutions or advice for complex problems. Even when students ask for advice, they may just want someone to listen.
  • Be curious. Invite the student to share as much or as little as they are comfortable sharing with you. Ask the student to share his/her ideas about what might help him/her through this situation (e.g. counseling, talking to a religious leader, speaking with parents, working with offices on campus, etc.).
  • Remember that your primary role on campus is not to "help" students by counseling them or solving their problems for them, as much as it may be your natural human desire to care for someone who is hurting emotionally. Set healthy limits by encouraging the student to seek counseling and work on problem-solving strategies for him/herself. This approach ultimately teaches students strategies for taking care of themselves in the future.
  • Ask the student directly about suicidal thoughts or plans, or plans to hurt someone else. You will not be "putting thoughts in their head" about suicide or hurting others; rather, you will be offering them an opportunity to talk about this if it is a concern.
  • If a student's behavior represents a danger to him/herself or others, call Public Safety at 412.396.2677 immediately.

Counseling Referral

A student who is disruptive or emotionally distressed may benefit from a referral to the Counseling Center. The Counseling Center asks that faculty and staff complete a referral form (located on their website) before the student is seen for an appointment. This is a vital step in assuring that the therapist who meets with the student understands the full extent of the faculty/staff concerns, particularly since some students may be reluctant to open up to a therapist in the first meeting. If you are unsure about making a referral, please call the Counseling Center at 412.396.6204 to discuss your concerns and complete the referral form by phone. The Counseling Center can provide support and ideas about how to approach a student to maximize the likelihood that the student follows through on the counseling referral.

Due to privacy constraints (HIPPA and state and federal ethics codes), Counseling Center staff cannot provide faculty/staff with information about the student's attendance or participation in counseling without the student's written consent. However, the Counseling Center will encourage the student to report back directly to the person who referred them.

Faculty and staff are also encourages to follow up with the student at a later time, to make sure they followed through with the referral. It lets the student know you are truly interested in his/her well-being. It gives you another opportunity to intervene if the student has not followed through with counseling. Please call the Counseling Center if you need support for how to talk to a student who has not followed through with a counseling referral.


University Counseling Services

The Counseling Services staff provides consultation and support for faculty/staff who are dealing with disruptive and/or emotional distressed students who are not in immediate danger of harming themselves or others.

636 Fisher Hall

Office of Student Conduct

The Office of Student Conduct administers sanctions to students whose disruptive behavior violates policies found in the Code of Student Rights, Responsibilities and Conduct (Article XIII of the Student Handbook).

Duquesne Union, Room 117

University Department of Public Safety

When a student's behavior represents an immediate danger to himself/herself or others, contact Campus Safety.

412.396.2677 (COPS)


Campus Community Risk Team (CCRT)

The Duquesne University Campus Community Risk Team (CCRT) is a multi-disciplinary team with members from Academic Affairs, Residence Life, Campus Police, Student Conduct, Campus Ministry, Center for Student Wellbeing, Human Resources, and Legal Affairs. It may include others as needed.

The CCRT is responsible for evaluating possible serious risks to the safety and well-being of the campus community and recommending countermeasures as appropriate.

When the team receives reports from members of the campus community that an individual poses, or may pose, a threat to the campus community, or any member of the campus community, it makes an indivualized assessment to determine what, if any, action to take to remove and/or mitigate the risk, either for a limited time or indefinitely.

Support Council

The Support Council is a group of university administrators and faculty who meet to discuss "at risk" students or review students who appear to be experiencing emotional, academic, physical or social problems. The Council can assist by providing information on how to intervene when situations arise or by providing appropriate referrals to on-campus resources.