For Faculty & Staff
- Chris Brownson, Director UT Counseling and Mental Health Center
What is distressed or disruptive behavior?
- Distressed behavior
A student may not always be aware that they are experiencing distress. However, they may exhibit signs that they need help. Indicators of distress may include:
- Excessive class absences
- Declining academic performance
- Poor emotional control
- Mood swings
- Changes in sleeping or eating habits
- Excessive concern about physical or mental health
- Persistent depression or anxiety
- Suicidal or homicidal intent
- Participation in risky activities
Disruptive behavior, as defined in the Institutional Rules on Student Services and Activities, is any behavior that "impedes, interferes with, or disrupts any University teaching, research, administrative, disciplinary, public service, learning, or other authorized activity" (Chapter 11, Section 11-404(a)(3). For more information about the Institutional Rules, please click here (PDF).
Suicide warning signs
- Threatening to or talking about wanting to hurt or kill oneself
- Looking for ways to kill oneself by seeking access to firearms, medication / pills or other means
- Talking or writing about death, dying or suicide when these actions are out of the ordinary for the person
- Feeling hopeless
- Feeling rage or uncontrolled anger or seeking revenge
- Acting reckless or engaging in risky activities-seemingly without thinking
- Feeling trapped-like there's no way out
- Increasing alcohol or drug use
- Withdrawing from friends, family and society
- Feeling anxious or agitated, being unable to sleep, or sleeping all the time
- Experiencing dramatic mood changes
- Seeing no reason for living or having no sense of purpose in life
(Source: the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org)
How can I help a student in distress?
Questions to ask yourself when gauging distress
- Is this student's behavior distressing and out of the ordinary?
- Is this beyond my skill level?
- Has this behavior been increasing over time?
- Does the student appear to be at risk?
- Does the student's behavior place others at risk?
- Am I feeling as if I could use help or guidance in this situation?
Answering "yes" to any of these questions may indicate that a student is distressed and needs help.
Minimal signs of distress
An expression of concern is often the best way to offer your support and assistance. Share your concerns about their behavior then refer the student to SES and/or any other appropriate campus or community resources, Click Here.
Extreme signs of distress
- If you believe a student intends to harm themselves, others, or property, contact UTPD immediately at 911.
- The Counseling and Mental Health Center (CMHC) has a crisis team available for walk-in appointments (Mon-Fri, 8am-5pm) to address concerns or behaviors that do not pose an immediate threat yet require a timely response. If possible, please telephone CMHC staff to inform them you are sending or escorting a student for a crisis appointment (512-471-3515). Student Services Building (SSB), 5th floor.
- Student Emergency Services (512-471-5017) is available to assist by appointment or walk-in (Mon-Fri 8am-5pm). SSB 4.104
- The Behavior Concerns Advice Line, BCAL, (512-232-5050) is available 24hrs to receive reports, provide assistance, and discuss options.
How do I respond to the behavior of a disruptive student?
General guidelines for responding to disruptive behavior
- Set expectations for student conduct from the beginning of the class/meeting
- Address violations of these expectations as soon as they occur
- Document all occurrences of disruptive behavior. Even if the issue is temporarily resolved, this can be useful in future cases
- Trust your instincts if you feel a student might be a danger to themselves or others
- Consult with Student Emergency Services, in the Office of the Dean of Students (512-471-5017) when behavior is of concern to you.
Minimal disruptive behavior
With minimally disruptive behavior (e.g., repeated tardiness, yelling, ignoring university policies, etc.), you should talk to the student immediately upon observing the behavior. In these cases, the purpose of the discussion is to review the behavior, its impact on others and the learning environment, and clarify expectations for appropriate behavior. You may also wish to contact the Behavior Concerns Advice Line (BCAL), 512-232-5050 or on the Web at http://www.utexas.edu/safety/bcal/.
Significant disruptive behavior
- In some cases, disruptive behavior is significant and may pose an immediate threat to property, yourself, and/or other members of the university community. In these situations, contact UTPD immediately at 911.
- After an immediate situation has been addressed, you may also follow up with the Behavior Concerns Advice Line (BCAL 512-232-5050 or www.utexas.edu/safety/bcal/) or Student Judicial Services (512-471-2841) for additional assistance.
Additional tools for addressing disruptive behavior
Disruptive Behavior Continuum
Click on the image below to open the Disruptive Behavior Continuum Powerpoint file (pptx).
Disruptive Behavior Continuum Talking Points
The Disruptive Behavior Continuum is a tool for which to monitor and assess varying levels of concern related to disruptive student behavior. This continuum acts as a general guide and does not encompass all sorts of behavior that a student may present with. Please utilize this guide as a frame of reference for determining the need to request assistance.Key points to remember:
- BCAL is an integral tool used by all levels of the University community to report behavioral concerns related to faculty, staff or students. (512-232-5050 or on the web at www.utexas.edu/safety/bcal/))
- The Employee Assistance Program addresses concerns related to faculty and staff. (512-471-3366)
- Student Emergency Services, in the Office of the Dean of Students, addresses concerns related to students and acts in a capacity of advocacy, referral, and support. (512-471-5017)
- Student Judicial Services, in the Office of the Dean of Students, oversees cases involving violations of institutional rules. In relation to this continuum, certain acts of classroom disruption may be deemed a violation of institutional rules. (512-471-2841)
- The Counseling and Mental Health Center operates a 24-hour crisis hotline, which can be reached at (512) 471- CALL (2255). This line is intended for students to utilize when needing to address concerns for themselves. Appointments can be set by contacting them directly at (512) 471-3515.
- UTPD serves as the primary contact when addressing issues related to criminal activity in progress or having just occurred as well as situations involving immediate threat to self and/or others. (911)
Dependent on circumstance, contacting BCAL may not always result in intervention/action; however, the report will be documented and serves as an additional resource if the concerning behavior continues. Conversely, a caller to the BCAL line may be unaware, due to privacy laws, of all history pertaining to the individual for whom they are calling about – thus the BCAL team reserves the right to conduct an intervention even if the caller does not feel one is warranted.Bottom line:
If there is any uncertainty as to whether a call for assistance should be made, PLEASE CALL. On-campus resources are available to assist you in navigating through difficult situations
In the event that behaviors rise to a level of concern in which a collaborative response is deemed necessary, pre-established teams, comprised of key personnel from various campus entities, are convened to address issues related to students, faculty, and staff.
Critical Incident Response Team (CIRT)
The Office of the Dean of Students coordinates the university's response to the majority of critical student-related incidents. Critical incidents can include interpersonal violence/sexual assault, student death, residential displacement, situations involving students studying abroad, as well as violent crimes. The Critical Incident Response Team (CIRT) strives to provide an immediate and effective response to these incidents, collaborate seamlessly with all entities involved with the critical incident, and improve the quality of students' lives at UT Austin.
The Critical Incident Response Team is comprised of representatives from the Office of the Vice President for Student Affairs, Office of the Dean of Students, Division of Housing and Food Service, Office of the President, Counseling and Mental Health Center, University Health Services, International Office, Office of Public Affairs, and University Police Department. This campus-wide team can be activated at any time to respond to local, national, and/or international critical incidents affecting UT Austin students.
- Emergency Information Quick Reference
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