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RESPONDING TO DISTURBING CONTENT IN STUDENTS' WORK

Faculty and teaching assistants often seek consultation regarding disturbing comments or revelations in student writings or artwork. Such content often includes self-disclosure about abuse or trauma, bizarre content in e-mail messages, dangerous threats or pronouncements, or art work reflective of traumatic events or violence. Students in question may or may not also exhibit bizarre or disruptive classroom behavior. Download a print-ready brochure on Responding to Disturbing Content (.pdf, 193.5kb).

COMMON QUESTIONS ARE:

This information can help faculty and teaching assistants identify and act on such matters as necessary.

WHAT ARE SOME OF THE INDICATIONS OF DISTURBED CONTENT?

We realize there are many ways in which an individual expresses him/herself; however, the presence of such features in student work may indicate an effort, albeit distorted and unconscious, to communicate something of deep personal importance. The recommendation is that the educator seek consultation with appropriate department supervisors and the University Counseling Center before confronting the student directly.

CONSULTATION WITH THE UNIVERSITY COUNSELING CENTER

The University Counseling Center provides an on-call counselor on a daily basis. The on-call counselor will either take your call immediately or will call you back as soon as possible. If you believe it may be an emergency situation, let the secretary know this and either the director or clinicall director will take your call. The telephone number is 777-2772; you may e-mail the director or other staff member (staff listing).

There may be occasions when it is appropriate to obtain additional information about the student in question, or have him/her come to the Counseling Center for evaluation. In such cases, the necessary steps will be taken to arrange this. In accordance with the requirements of confidentiality, it will not be possible for the Counseling Center to reveal any clinical data that may exist regarding the student - or even if the student is a Counseling Center client. We will, however, consult with you and provide some suggestions for follow-up.

The central question will be to determine if the student's expressions are evidence of severe mental illness, if the student is a danger to self or others, or if some type of treatment or intervention is warranted. Whenever appropriate, the Counseling Center will work closely and consult with the dean of students and University Police.

In the past, consultation and/or assessment in such cases has revealed the existence of an emotional problem. At other times, however, we have found that some students were unaware that they had created a problem for others, or were unintentionally violating cultural or social norms. Irrespective of the student's understanding of the impact his or her work might have on others, it is important and appropriate to evaluate aberrant or potentially dangerous student expression and, if necessary, intervene.

SUGGESTIONS ON HOW TO RESPOND

 OTHER RESOURCES

OTHER FACULTY GUIDES

Written by Elizabeth Droz, PhD, Dean of Students, and William Russell, CSW, Senior Counselor, University Counseling Center.

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Last Updated: 8/12/11