Academic journal article Journal of College Counseling

Dealing with Disruptive and Emotional College Students: A Systems Model

Academic journal article Journal of College Counseling

Dealing with Disruptive and Emotional College Students: A Systems Model

Article excerpt

Disruptive behaviors confound faculty, staff, and administrators. This article proposes a systemic model for handling disruptive behaviors. The model, in which college counselors have a leading role, uses faculty liaisons, a faculty and staff handbook faculty and staff training, and policy development to address the problem.

Disruptive, disrespectful, and disorderly students have begun to stymie many faculty members and administrators in community colleges, colleges, and universities. It is often expected that by the time students reach college they will know how to behave in a classroom. However, some very promising students have even committed murder at institutions such as Harvard (Thernstrom, 1996), Simon's Rock College of Bard, and the University of Iowa (Matthews, 1993). Murder is the most dramatic of all the disruptive behaviors faced by college counselors and faculty. Fortunately, few counselors or faculty members will have the experience.

Unfortunately, college instructors often experience, on a daily basis, students who are chronically late, who talk to friends during class, who eat or sleep in class, and who engage in arguments with instructors or other students (Amada, 1994). Amada (1994) also reported stalking and inappropriate erotic or romantic attachments that alarm college faculty. Instructors, using only the authority of their position, are no longer able to maintain decorum in their classrooms or a sense of personal safety.

Disruptive behaviors can be characterized as rebellious or emotional in nature. Rebellious disruptive behaviors seem to be intentional, defiant, annoying, and disrespectful. The student who antagonistically questions the expertise and authority of the instructor or the student who continuously chatters in class even after having been disciplined can be characterized as exhibiting rebellious behavior. Although emotionally disruptive behaviors may also have annoying or disrespectful qualities, these behaviors seem to be unintended and to be precipitated by underlying emotional distress. Such emotional distress can be exhibited by changes in academic performance, outbursts of anger, changes in personal hygiene, excessive absences, essays or creative works that display themes of despair or rage, and clear homicidal or suicidal threats. These students may also express their distress through unintentional outbursts or corollary behaviors, such as running our of the classroom to avoid being seen when crying. Some s tudents exhibit both types of behaviors. These behaviors can be referred to as "escalating behaviors." For example, students who express a high degree of neediness and who escalate their actions to threatening or aggressive gestures can be characterized as having emotional as well as behavioral concerns.

Each type of disruptive behavior requires a different set of treatment actions by the college or university and the counselor. Rebellious and escalating disruptions need to be addressed behaviorally through disciplinary action, whereas disruptive behavior precipitated by emotional distress may require consultation with counseling staff. However, regardless of the category, student who engage in disruptive behaviors may need to be dealt with behaviorally through disciplinary action, depending on the severity of their behavior.

Faculties and staffs at colleges and universities require assistance from counseling professionals in dealing with disruptive students (Amada, 1994, 1995, 1997), in dealing with students who are experiencing academic or emotional problems (Allen & Trimble, 1993), and in making appropriate referrals (Allen & Trimble, 1993; Amada, 1994, 1995, 1997). The proposed intervention model is designed to assist academic and student support staff who deal with disruptive and emotional students. This model suggests more than a structured set of cognitive-behavioral recommendations as proposed by Amada (1994, 1995, 1997, 1999). …

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