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Dealing with Disruptive Individuals

Dealing with Disruptive Individuals

What is Disruptive Behavior?

Any behavior that interferes with students, faculty, or staff and their access to an appropriate and/or safe educational or work environment is considered disruptive. It is important to note that “disruptive behavior” as defined in this section may differ from classroom disruptions. Policy information regarding classroom disruptions can be found in the Policy Register.

Examples of Disruptive Behavior

  • Behavior that draws inappropriate attention to oneself
  • Verbal outbursts (e.g., arguing, yelling, screaming)
  • Words or actions that intimidate or harass others
  • Words or actions that cause others to fear for their personal safety
  • Threats of physical assault or violence

How should I deal with a disruptive person?

Disruptive behavior should not be ignored. It is important to remain calm. Remind yourself that the person is upset about the situation—not with you. Tell the person that such behavior is inappropriate and that there are consequences for failing to alter or improve the disruptive behavior. Many disruptive situations involve anger. Recognize that the period of peak anger usually lasts 20-30 seconds. Often it is best to wait out the initial outburst before addressing the individual. If you feel threatened, seek to remove yourself from the situation or secure appropriate assistance.


Disruptive behavior should be documented. After the situation has been resolved, or the current incident has subsided, write a factual, detailed account of what occurred. Use concrete terms; be specific. Share the documentation with the leadership in your administrative unit or academic department.

The DOs

  • DO call 911 if there is an immediate threat to the safety of individuals.
  • DO actively listen to the person, through the anger.
  • DO acknowledge the feelings of the individual.
  • DO allow the person to vent and to tell you what is upsetting to him/her. Use the silence to allow the person to talk it out.
  • DO set limits. Explain clearly and directly what behaviors are acceptable (e.g., “I will be willing to speak with you as long as you lower your voice”) and not acceptable (e.g., “You have a right to be angry, but breaking things is not OK”).
  • DO be firm, steady, direct, and honest, but also compassionate.
  • DO trust your intuition.
  • DO focus on what you can do to help resolve the situation.
  • DO suggest resources; make personal referrals when possible, and call ahead to brief the person.
  • DO report the behavior to the leadership in your administrative unit or academic department.
  • DO consult with a campus resource. If in doubt, contact the Dean of Students.

The DON’Ts

  • DON’T ignore the disruptive behavior.
  • DON’T interrupt, particularly during the first 20-30 seconds of peak anger.
  • DON’T minimize the situation.
  • DON’T enter into an argument or shouting match.
  • DON’T blame, ridicule, or use sarcasm.
  • DON’T touch or become physical.
  • DON’T ignore your own limitations.

General Considerations

If you need immediate assistance in responding to a threat to your safety or the safety of others, call 911.

If you need to consult with someone about a student who is disruptive in any educational setting or seems to be showing signs of emotional distress, mental illness, or difficulty in adjusting to college life, contact a mental health resource. You may also consider contacting the Dean of Students to discuss a possible referral to The Care Team.

If you have questions about whether a student’s disruptive behavior can be addressed through the university student conduct system, contact the Office of Student Conduct.

If you don’t know whether to be concerned about a behavior, contact the Dean of Students at 330.672.4050 for guidance.
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