The Verbally Aggressive Student

Students usually become verbally aggressive or abusive in frustrating situations that they see as being beyond their control. Anger and frustration become displaced from those situations to you. These students often feel they will be rejected and consequently reject you first. They often realize the drama and intimidation behind their anger and are aware of their impact.

It is most often helpful to:
  • Acknowledge their anger and frustration, e.g., “I hear how angry you are.” Rephrase what they are saying and identify their emotion, e.g., “I can see how upset you are because you feel your rights are being violated and nobody will listen.”
  • Allow them to vent, get their feelings out, and tell you what is upsetting them. This is not license for them to verbally abuse you, but rather an opportunity to more clearly communicate once the emotional intensity has subsided.
  • Communicate that you are not willing to accept their verbally abusive behavior, e.g., “When you yell and scream at me that way, I find it difficult (impossible) to listen.”
  • Reduce stimulation; invite the person to a quiet place or your office if you are comfortable. Consider keeping the door open or inviting another faculty or staff member to join you.
  • Help the person problem solve and deal with the real issues when (if) they become calmer.
It is not helpful to:
  • Get into an argument or shouting match.
  • Become hostile or punitive yourself, e.g. “You can't talk to me that way.”
  • Press for explanation or reason for their behavior— “Now I'd like you to tell me exactly why you are so obnoxious.”
  • Hesitate to call Campus Security if the situation escalates.