Students in Distress

Make sure you know how to recognize a student who may be distressed, or whose behavior is concerning to you because it is disruptive or disturbing. With your help, any student can get the professional care they deserve — and UB can be a safer place for all of us.

On this page:

What Kind of Behavior Should I Refer?

It’s important to refer any disruptive or disturbing behavior you see in students.

  • Any incidents or interactions with students that cause you to think he or she may be a threat to his or her own or another person’s safety; all verbal, written and implied threats should be documented
  • Any written work a student submits with a disturbing theme or references
  • Behavior such as a decline in academic performance, a significant number of absences or a decline in personal appearance can be cause for concern when it is out of the ordinary for a particular student

If you’re unsure if a certain situation should be referred to the Students of Concern Team, please contact Student Conduct and Advocacy for guidance.

See Something, Say Something

People who might be violent usually have other types of problems long before they begin to act out in violent ways. It’s important to know the early warning signs, and contact the appropriate campus office when you see suspicious behavior.

Recognize a Distressed Student

“Distressed” students are those who may be dealing with a mental health issue or crisis that affects their behavior inside or outside of the classroom. Not every distressed student will exhibit the same signs, but some signs include:

  • Difficulty managing his or her emotions
  • An increase in drug and alcohol use
  • Coming to class apparently under the influence
  • A sudden drop in academic performance
  • A sudden decline in personal appearance or hygiene
  • Depression and talking about suicide or homicide
  • Partaking in high-risk behavior
  • They are a recent victim of a crime, trauma or biased-based behavior
  • Overly emotional behavior (for example, being aggressive, depressed, demanding or suspicious)
  • Carrying a weapon, or discussing access to weapons
  • Discussing, planning or fantasizing about violent acts
  • Exhibiting racial or religious prejudice or intolerant attitudes toward other groups

This list does not include all possible signs of a distressed student. Typically, you should be more concerned with a student who exhibits multiple signs at the same time.

Tips For Dealing With a Distressed Student

  • Speak with the student and let him or her know you are concerned; you can speak with the student privately if you are comfortable doing so, but if you feel unsafe at any time make sure you have someone else there with you
  • Listen empathically to what is troubling him or her
  • Do not place blame on the student
  • Address your concerns as observations about his or her recent behavior
  • Make sure the student knows that you’re willing to help, but maintain clear boundaries
  • Know what you’re comfortable discussing with the student, and refer when the problem exceeds your skill level
  • Don’t promise the student confidentiality, but promise that you will only tell the appropriate people
  • Don’t judge or criticize the student
  • Remember to document the conversations after, so that if a pattern emerges, it can be traced
  • Encourage the student to seek help from professionals, and say that doing so demonstrates courage and strength

Recognize a Disruptive Student

Disruptive behavior is any behavior that interferes with the rights of other students, faculty and staff and their access to an appropriate learning or work environment.

Examples of Disruptive Behavior Behavior That Is Not Necessarily Disruptive
  • Yelling, arguing aggressively and not responding to directions to calm down
  • Intimidating or harassing words or actions
  • Words or actions that make students, faculty or staff fear for their safety
  • Property damage or other harm
  • Making threats to cause harm to self or others (if there is an immediate threat, call University Police)
  • Most disagreements, even if they become heated, are not disruptive
  • Disagreements over cultural differences are not inherently disruptive
  • Students should still be allowed to express and debate opinions, but not in a way that threatens or insults other individuals

Any disruptive behavior should be referred to the Students of Concern Team.

Tips for Dealing with a Disruptive Student

  • Document the situation and refer the behavior to Student Conduct and Advocacy
  • Never hesitate to call UB’s University Police at 716-645-2222 if the situation does not begin to diffuse; filing a report does not result in an arrest in most cases
  • Allow the student to vent his or her anger without interrupting, as this could cause further anger; say something like “I understand that you feel that way,” so the student feels as if they have been heard
  • Do not touch the student
  • Remain calm
  • Do not perpetuate their anger by arguing back, using sarcasm or blame
  • Ask a student who becomes disruptive to leave the classroom

Obstruction or Disruption in the Classroom

Student conduct should not interfere with or prevent the conduct of classes or other university functions, or endanger the safety of members of the campus community by threats of disruption, violence or violent acts. Please review the Obstruction and Disruption in the Classroom policy and consider including it on your syllabi.

How to Refer a Student

Emergency Referrals

  • Call University Police at 716-645-2222 or pick up any blue light emergency phone
  • Crisis Services of Erie County is an off-campus resource that is also available 24/7; you can call them at 716-834-3131

A situation may be an emergency if:

  • You are concerned for your safety or for the safety of others
  • You believe a student is considering suicide and requires immediate intervention

Non-Emergency Referrals

You can submit a referral to the Student of Concern Team online, by calling Student Conduct and Advocacy, or by contacting any Student of Concern Team member for a consultation.

Student of Concern Team Members

This group serves as a central body to which concerning student behaviors may be referred for action or remediation. The team meets regularly to discuss referral cases and coordinate individualized responses to support students who are identified as struggling. Team members assess referred students for their potential risk to the campus and community, make decisions based on the best interests of both the student and the university, and then put individuals in touch with appropriate support services. For more information, please contact Student Conduct and Advocacy.

The Students of Concern Team is comprised of administrators from Student Life and other units at UB

Student Conduct and Advocacy

  • Elizabeth Lidano, Director
  • Colleen Connolly, Associate Director
  • Benjamin Fabian, Assistant Director

Counseling Services

  • Elizabeth Snider, LCSW-R, Associate Director
  • Kathryn Benfanti, LMHC, Clinical Case Manager

Student Health Services

  • Mary Stock, MD, Senior Physician

University Police

  • Gerald Schoenle, Chief of Police
  • Therese Banas, Investigator

Campus Living

  • Brian Haggerty, PhD, Senior Associate Director
  • David Wright, Residential Judicial Coordinator

Need Help?

You are not expected to take care of a distressed student by yourself. If you ever feel unsafe or unsure, get help.

Student conduct rules and regulations, and campus-wide student support

University at Buffalo
9 Norton Hall, North Campus
Buffalo, NY 14260

Phone: (716) 645-6154; Fax: (716) 645-3376

On-campus emergencies and crime prevention, 24/7

Bissell Hall, North Campus

Phone: (716) 645-2222

Someone to talk to for mental health issues

Counseling Services

Student Life

University at Buffalo
120 Richmond Quadrangle, North Campus
Buffalo, NY 14261

Phone: (716) 645-2720; Fax: (716) 645-2175

University at Buffalo
202 Michael Hall, South Campus
Buffalo, NY 14214

Phone: (716) 829-5800

After Hours Counseling — Call University Police

For after-hours emergencies that require counseling, call University Police at 716-645-2222 and ask for the counselor on call.

Additional Resource