Frequently Asked Questions

How should I handle a student who is disruptive in class?
What should I do if a student turns in assignments with threatening, violent or disturbing content?
Are more students coming to college with mental disorders?
School shootings are often suicides. How widespread is suicide among college students?
Is suicide widespread among college students, and how frequent are unsuccessful suicide attempts within this population?
How can I identify potentially violent students?

How should I handle a student who is disruptive in class?

Faculty members have the authority to manage their classrooms and establish reasonable guidelines for discussions so that everyone has the opportunity to participate. If a student behaves inappropriately, but not disruptively, consider speaking to him or her in private as opposed to singling out the student in class. If your student’s behavior is overly distracting, it may be necessary for you to correct them in the moment, and then invite them to talk with you more after class.

You can ask a student to leave the classroom if the behavior begins to interfere with your ability to teach, or the other students’ ability to learn. The student should be provided with an explanation of why he or she was asked to leave and then given the appropriate opportunity to discuss the matter further when it is practical. If the situation becomes resistant or threatening, contact security for assistance.

What should I do if a student turns in assignments with threatening, violent or disturbing content?

Though there are many ways in which an individual expresses him/herself, the presence of disturbing content in student work may indicate an effort, albeit distorted and unconscious, to communicate something of deep personal importance. We recommend that you consult with your department supervisor, Student Development and/or Counseling Services prior to making any decisions about how to handle this type of content. Though more often than not disturbing content in students’ work is not related to harmful behaviors, the worst response to this type of content is no response at all.

When you contact Counseling Services and Student Development we will work with you to determine if the student’s expressions are evidence of severe mental illness, if the student is a danger to self or others, or if some type of treatment or intervention is warranted. It is important to note that communicating with your own department as well as with Counseling Services and Student Development in general regarding student concerns is an essential aspect of keeping our students and our campus safe. A student will only receive the appropriate care if individuals are willing to share their concerns and do not attempt to handle things on their own.

Are more students coming to college with mental disorders?

Probably yes, but further explanation is required here. Increases in counseling center visits and use of psychotropic medications may actually represent higher numbers of students coming to college with mental disorders. Or, those data may mean that contemporary students are more willing to seek help for mental illness. In any event, college health center directors have been calling particular attention to larger numbers of students reporting characteristics of clinical depression. A 2004 American College Health Association study found that 45% of the students surveyed felt so depressed that they found it difficult to function. Nearly 10% of students reported that such feelings occurred 9 or more times in the past school year.

School shootings are often suicides. How widespread is suicide among college students?

Multiple studies have found that college students commit suicide at half the rate of their non-student peers. One of the most cited surveys “found an overall student suicide rate of 7.5 per 100,000, compared to the national average of 15 per 100,000 in a sample matched for age, race and gender” (Silverman, et al., 1997, “The Big Ten Student Suicide Study: A 10-year study of suicides on Midwestern university campuses,” Suicides and Life Threatening Behavior 27 [3]: 285-303).

Is suicide widespread among college students, and how frequent are unsuccessful suicide attempts within this population?

A 2006 article by Paul S. Applebaum, Professor and Director of the Division of Psychiatry, Law and Ethics at the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons (and past President of the American Psychiatric Association) shares some information regarding this:

No matter how uncommon completed suicides are among college students, surveys suggest that suicidal ideation and attempts are remarkably prevalent. Two large scale studies generated nearly identical findings. Roughly 10 percent of college student respondents indicated that they had thought about suicide in the past year, and 1.5 percent admitted to having made a suicide attempt. (Psychiatric Services: “Depressed? Get Out!” July 2006, 57, 914-916).

How can I identify potentially violent students?

This is not a task to be undertaken alone. Expertise is available on campus to help. See the “Who to contact if…” section for essential resources and phone numbers and be sure to read the section on “The Student Exhibiting Verbal Aggression and Violence.”

It is important to resist the desire to profile potentially violent students based on media reports of past shootings. The 2003 National Research Council report Deadly Lessons: Understanding Lethal School Violence contains the following guidelines:

The difficulty is that… [t]he offenders are not that unusual; they look like their classmates at school. This has been an important finding of all those who have sought to investigate these shootings. Most important are the findings of the United States Secret Service, which concluded:
There is no accurate or useful profile of the ‘school shooter’…

A more promising approach is the “threat assessment,” based on analysis of observable behavior—what a student actually or reportedly said or did—compiled from multiple sources and reviewed by a trained threat assessment team. The report “Threat Assessment in Schools: A Guide to Managing Threatening Situations and to Creating Safe School Climates (developed by the U.S. Secret Service and Department of Education in 2002) contains the following overview:

Students and adults who know the student who is the subject of the threat assessment inquiry should be asked about communications or other behaviors that may indicate the student of concern’s ideas or intent. The focus of these interviews should be factual:

  • What was said? To whom?
  • What was written? To whom?
  • What was done?
  • When and where did this occur?
  • Who else observed this behavior?
  • Did the student say why he or she acted as they did?

Proper threat assessment is a team effort requiring expertise from experienced individuals. Threat assessment on our campus is done by Jim Hayes, Vice President for Student Development, Luke Behaunek, Dean of Students and Ellie Olson, Director of Counseling Services. Additional individuals from the offices of Residence Life, Student Support Services, the Chapel, Academic Affairs, Health Services, Security, and/or others will be brought in on a case by case basis, depending on the situation. It is always better to err on the side of caution and make a report than to not report a potential concern.  Faculty and Staff should contact the Vice President for Student Development (515-961-1281) or the Director of Counseling Services (515-961-1556) whenever they are concerned about whether a student may pose a risk of violence to self or others. Campus Security (515-961-1711) should be contacted after hours and in the event of an emergency.