Thursday, April 18, 2013

The Big Thirsty.

Ivan from Inglewood writes: "I'm through the other side of a frightening and lengthy mediation with a student who had threatened me on and off campus for several months. In addition to physical damage against my property, the student made a number of threats against my person, some of which I was able to record.

I'm quite safe, and I feel as though justice was done. I'm even hopeful about some of the help the student received. But what I'm up against now is a sense of dread of new situations, new students. I feel edgy, afraid, worried that it will start again with someone else.

Q: Have you ever felt real fear of a student, someone who might have menaced you, threatened you, or acted in some way against you? Regardless of how you handled it, how did you get over it?


  1. Yes. It was my second year of teaching as a grad student, I was a sweet young thing of twenty-three, and the kid in question had very clear mental problems and had been involved in violent altercations that had gotten him in trouble with the law.

    And I didn't get over it, frankly, but eventually the semester ended.

  2. When the disagreement with the student got to the point of the third or fourth repetition of our positions, I told hir that until he/she had something new to add, the conversation was over.

    Student refused to leave; kept shouting, started getting really hostile and abusive. I stood up and said, "I insist that you leave my office NOW!"

    Student kept shouting. I said, "If you do not leave I will call campus police." . . . then I picked up the phone (he/she STILL kept arguing/shouting).

    It wasn't until I had dialed three of the five numbers that the student left. I called campus police and reported it anyway.

    I got over it after the student left the University.

    A year or so later I had a death threat on my office answering machine; although the voice didn't match, I DID wonder if it was this student or one of hir friends.

  3. I've had several run-ins with students--some of them were off their meds. Some were disturbed. Some were just assholes.

    I think in my old age I've gotten zen about it. The more worked up they get, the calmer and more soft-spoken I get. "Are you okay?" "Would you like to have a seat?" "Yes, I understand that you're very upset about that..." "Is there anyone I can call?"

    And not "I'm going to call campus police" but "Let me call someone... you're obviously upset...just sit here and I'll make you a cup of tea..."

    Then, call campus police, and when campus police arrive, say, "I think this student needs to be escorted to the counseling center--I've very very worried about him...can you make sure he gets the help he needs?"

    File report, get student out of class, etc.

    Do. Not. Engage. Do. Not. Escalate.

    Displays of vague kindness and sympathetic noises make them go all boneless because they're not getting any pushback.

  4. So far, I haven't faced this. It is, however, most likely only a matter of time, and I like these suggestions.

    1. I'm in Wayworn's situation, but I will definitely do it Stella-Style when it (inevitably) occurs. So far, all I've only had criers, no yellers. Then again, there's a definite privilege issue there - I'm a six-foot, two-hundred pound male. I'm not scary-looking by any means, but I'm well aware that the main reason some of my colleagues in grad school got yelled at and I didn't has a lot to do with the fact that said colleagues were female and on the petite side to boot. Which sucks without a doubt.

  5. Working entirely online at present, I have thankfully not had to endure physical intimidation.

    However, I have often felt disabled by fear of angry student reprisals through ginned up complaints.

    I react by drinking heavily.

  6. It sounds like you are not looking for advice on how to handle it (although Stella seems to have it covered.....they also tell us at our place to quickly end the conversation with a promise to talk again soon as in "this is not a good moment for either of us, let's talk [fill in the blank]."

    I had a student and her husband jump out at me from behind a door in the early days of my adjunct career. I was so shaken up----the two of them yelled at me and let me have it. They did not really threaten me, although they were very insulting and vaguely threatening.

    Hmmmm. That was probably 15 years, and a few different colleges ago. I guess I'd say I am over it, but I don't think I'll ever forget that!

    If you think you are truly traumatized, then I hate to be so generic, but you should see someone for counseling. These kinds of very upsetting situations sometimes require professional help to reframe.

  7. I have received a credible death threat from a student via email...but the intended target was another faculty member, not me. The student thought that I "understood him" "was in his corner" etc. I could see it being a short distance to also being on his "death list" (yes, he actually used that term). I looked out the window into the dusk, and saw the student in the parking lot, looking up at my HUGE office window.

    I got up from my desk (everyone else had gone home), shut and locked the door, turned off my office lights , got down on the floor, and sent the email to and called campus police.

    The ex-Marine officer on duty (bless him!) said "STAY on the floor. DO NOT move at all. DO NOT look out the window. DO NOT open the door. I am walking over RIGHT NOW. What does this person look like?"

    The officer sensibly called for LOTS of backup from the county, which arrived at light speed. The student was still there, belligerent enough to be arrested, and was promptly removed.

    He was banned from campus, reportedly has "gotten the help he needs" and has not been seen or heard from again.

    I have never gotten over it, or the feeling that I have a target painted on me. The threatened faculty resigned the next day.

  8. Ivan writes:

    I really appreciate the feedback. I am considering some counseling, and have been trying to obtain it through the college. That has not been easy.

    I do at times feel as if I don't want to go back to a classroom. I feel vulnerable. Each new semester seems to scare the hell out of me. I can understand Val's colleague entirely. Thanks again.

  9. I've never had to deal with a student like this. Maybe I'm lucky, or maybe it's the fact that I'm 6'2", 235 pounds, and have a great deal of muscle. Either way I'm grateful that I've never had to experience this and pray I never will.

  10. Were criminal charges pressed for the property damage?

  11. In the continuing mulching of our news cycle after the Boston marathon one of the dumber things I've heard is "People are more scared about this than they are about [x campus shooting]!"

    ORLY? Have you asked anyone who works on a campus about that?

    Wishing comfort and help to those of you who have had such scary experiences. I'm also intrigued by the number of commenters who self-identify as beefy mens. Well hello there . . .

  12. While I was working on my second master's degree many years ago, I often drove from the institution I taught at and the university.

    One day, I happened to notice a deep gash in one of the tires on my car. Its direction (from the rim towards the tread), its shape, and it depth made me think it was deliberate. I decided to play it safe and replaced the tire.

    I had no idea where it was damaged and when. I live in a rough neighbourhood and there have been reports of vehicles parked in the apartment complex's lots being vandalized from time to time. For all I knew, someone picked my car at random and tried slashing it. But, since, during the days I commuted to the university, someone might have followed me, seen what car I drive and, maybe, noted the license plate number and did the deed at the institution.

    The timing was peculiar, though. I noted the damage a few days before I was to go on a road trip to attend a wedding and I made arrangements to take a vacation day for it. At the time, the assistant department head was running things while the head was away on internal leave and he had to sign the absence form.

    It happened that the assistant head had a long-standing grudge with me, though I didn't know at the time how he much loathed me. It wasn't until after it became clear he wanted my head on a platter that I began wondering if he might have had something to do with it.

    I prefer to think that it was merely coincidence, largely because I have no proof as to who did it. I always had the nagging feeling that the assistant head wouldn't have minded if something had happened to me out on the highway.

  13. All four of my tires were slashed once. I knew who had done it - it was a student, but not one of mine; I was driving in to campus, and the student was riding their bicycle in a crosswalk. Pedestrians have the right of way, but this was a cyclist, so I had the right of way; in any event, the light was with me and against him, and I was in no danger of hitting the student or even making him slow down. So I continued my turn. He chased me screaming at me that he'd had the right of way, and I made the grave mistake of pulling over to explain that actually, I had had it.

    He threw his bike down in front of my car and leaned in my window to scream at me, stabbing his finger repeatedly at my face. He was a big beefy guy and I am not; I am a 5'5" female type and not athletic. I put my hand up in front of my face to ward off his finger, automatically, and accidentally touched his hand, waving in my face.

    It was instantly clear that a line had been crossed; physical contact, however slight, had been made, and I could see him thinking the same thing I instantly thought, which was, he was counting on my good will not to drive over his bicycle. But in fact I could easily do so; I was in a car. So he ran to pick up his bicycle, and I drove around him to a parking garage. When I came back at the end of the day, all four of my tires had been slashed.

    It was obvious who had done it, but when I went to the police equally clearly the cyclist was never going to be identified. The police gave me some excellent advice, which was, what was I thinking, pulling over to be the voice of sweet reason to the guy? This was in a major American city where traffic altercations frequently resulted in shootings; I was just lucky the guy wasn't packing.

    I considered that I had learned a useful lesson. I no longer try to explain myself at intersections.

    In fairness to the crazed cyclist, bicycling in that city would drive anyone insane. I only tried it once. It was enough to turn your hair white.

  14. I was shaken up by this for a couple of months. Fortunately I had no reason to think the guy could track me down, though I stopped parking in that garage. It would have been much scarier if he'd known who I was.

  15. Yes, at the last two institutions where I taught and where I'm currently teaching. I cannot go into details for one of these incidents because doing so would surely reveal too much information for anyone familiar with the case (and it was a case) to recognize me.

    At the last place, I did have to engage campus safety to walk me to and from my car.

    Here at LD3C, it's an ongoing thing. I've gone through the proper channels to express concern about no fewer than six students in the five years that I've been here, and in the case of at least three of these students, other faculty and staff had complained as well. There are stories of menacing student behavior every semester among the faculty in my department. Every semester. Let me hasten to add that we are not nervous Nellies where I teach.

    If something is verifiable, the student is removed. Often, a single report leads to the student disappearing on his or her own.

    We live in ridiculous times.