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Verbal Aggression and Violence

More and more the media is reporting on verbal aggression and violent behaviors on university campuses. It is very important to recognize, take seriously and be prepared to act strategically in response to such behaviors.

Students usually become verbally abusive in frustrating situations they perceive being beyond their control. Anger becomes displaced from those situations on to the nearest target (sometimes you). Explosive outbursts or ongoing belligerent and hostile behavior become the student’s way of gaining power and control. It is important to remember that for the most part, the student is not angry with you personally, but instead at his or her world, and that you are an object of pent-up frustrations.

Violence in these situations is rare and typically occurs when the student’s level of frustration has been so intense or of such an enduring nature as to erode all of the student’s emotional controls.


  • Ensure you have a way to communicate for help.
  • Be observant of student’s behaviors and your surroundings
  • If needed, consult with Security (515-961-1711), Student Development (515-961-1592) or Counseling Services (515-961-1332).

Post Violent Incident

  • Contact Security (515-961-1711).
  • Debrief with necessary parties.
  • Debrief with counselor in Counseling Services (515-961-1332).

At the Time of the Incident

It is helpful to:

  • Remain calm, get help if needed; take some deep breaths.
  • Have access to the door, keep furniture between you and the student.
  • Maintain posture that is poised, ready to move quickly but not fearful; be aware of your surroundings.
  • Acknowledge the student’s anger and frustration (e.g., “I can hear how upset you are”).
  • Be directive and firm about behaviors you will accept (e.g., “I need for you to step back” or “I’m having a hard time understanding you when you’re yelling”).
  • Allow them to open up, get the feelings out, and tell you what is upsetting them.
  • If possible, leave an unobstructed exit for the person.

It is not helpful to:

  • Ignore warning signs (body language, clenched fists).
  • Get into an argument or a shouting match.
  • Become hostile or punitive yourself (e.g., “You can’t talk to me in that way!”).
  • Press for explanations for their behavior.
  • Make threats or dares.
  • Corner or touch the student.
  • Neglect to report concerning behaviors.