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Aggression and Potential Violence

Some of the most difficult situations involve dealing with potential danger to self or others, especially when the danger is associated with aggressive behavior. Aggressive behavior occurs in many contexts and varies from verbal abuse to severe physical abuse. In most situations it is difficult to predict aggression until the person’s behavior changes. For example, a person could be quiet, reserved, hard working, and intelligent but prone to hostile aggressive outbursts. Another person could have social resentment, a lack of moral inhibitions, suspiciousness, and intermittent explosive episodes.

There could be potential for violence in a person with rigid control of his/her emotional expressions, an inability to verbally express him/herself, and over-controlled responses to hostility. A person with no history of violence may have aggressive outbursts that occur only in association with substance intoxication or substance withdrawal.

Though violence cannot be predicted, research has pointed to several indicators of potential for aggression against others. Some of the indicators of being violence-prone are an unstable school or vocational history; a history of juvenile violence and/or substance abuse; prior history of family violence or abuse; fascination with weapons; a pattern of cruelty to animals as a child or adolescent; and an inability to control aggressive impulses. When you encounter an aggressive or potentially violent student:


  1. Determine if you feel safe with the student. If you feel unsafe, remove yourself from the situation and call University Police (801.422.2222) or 911.
  2. Remain in an open area, preferably with an exit door near you.
  3. Directly and clearly explain the behaviors which are acceptable and unacceptable.
  4. Instruct the student to lower his/her voice if s/he is screaming.
  5. Stay calm and gain control of the situation by clearly setting limits and addressing the issue of concern.
  6. Pay attention to your body language. For example, standing with your body angled away from the shoulders of the student (like a V) rather than directly in front of the student may help de-escalate the situation.
  7. Tell him/her to make an appointment with you after s/he has calmed down.
  8. Debrief the situation with a colleague.
  9. Contact the Dean of Students Office (801.422.4771) regarding aggression, potential violence, or hate speech/crimes (speech or a criminal act against a person or his/her property targeted because of that person’s real or perceived race, color, religion, nationality, country of origin, disability, gender or sexual orientation). See for more information.
  10. Consult with Counseling and Psychological Services (801.422.3035).
  11. If you are concerned about sexual harassment or gender discrimination contact the Title IX Coordinator, at 801.422.2130 or the Equal Employment Office at 801.422.5895.


  1. Remain in a place you do not feel is safe.
  2. Engage in a screaming match.
  3. Make promises you can not keep.
  4. Ignore warning signs that the person’s anger is escalating.
  5. Threaten, dare, taunt or back a student into a corner.
  6. Allow yourself to be backed into a corner.
  7. Touch the student or crowd his/her personal space.
  8. Meet alone with the student.