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Faculty Wishing to Help a Student

The college years can be times of discovery and excitment, and those of us who work with students strive to incorporate these elements in our teaching.  At the same time, the personal and intellectual development which students experience in their college years can be taxing and difficult.  They leave the security of home, may experience loves and losses, or suffer from alcohol abuse, sexual assault, family problems, and deaths of loved ones.  In a campus community such as ours, faculty members can help by identifying students in need of assistance and directing them to the helping systems that are already in place at the College.

Students - or anyone for that matter - can experience a crisis if stress exceeds their coping resources.  Most crises can be resolved sucessfully within a few weeks but some cannot.  Some crises escalate and may place affected individuals in precarious, even dangerous situations.  At the same time, crises can present students with opportunities for significant personal growth, especially when help is provided.  Faculty can assist our students in avoiding dangerous situations and can help them develop their potential if they can identify difficulties as they develop and can refer the students to appropriate sources of help.  The following information will provide you with some guidance in this process.

What to look for

Academic indicators:

  • Deterioration in quality of work
  • A drop in grades
  • A negative change in classroom performance
  • Missed assignments
  • Repeated absences from class
  • Disorganized or erratic performance
  • Continual seeking of special accommodations (late papers, extensions, post-poned examinations, and the like)
  • Essays or creative work which indicate extremes of hopelessness, social isolation, rage, or despair

Faculty-Student Relationship Indicators:

  • Direct statements indicating distress, family problems , or other difficulties
  • Unprovoked anger or hostility
  • Exaggerated personality traits: more withdrawn or more animated than usual
  • Excessive dependency
  • Tearfulness
  • Expressions of hopelessness or worthlessness
  • Expressions of concern about a student in the class by his/her peers
  • A hunch or gut-level reaction that something is wrong
Physical Indicators:
  • Deterioration in physical appearance
  • Lack of personal hygiene
  • Excessive fatigue
  • Visible changes in weight
  • Coming to class bleary-eyed, hung over, or smelling of alcohol
Safety Risk Indicators:
  • Any written note or verbal statement which has a sense of finality or a suicidal flavor to it
  • Essays or papers which focus on despair, suicide, or death
  • Severe depression
  • Statements to the effect that the student is "going away for a long time"
  • Giving away of prized possessions
  • Self-injurious or self-destructive behaviors
  • Any other behavior which seems out of control
What you can do
  • You can discuss your concerns with the student and listen for the response.  Talking about a problem or labeling a crisis does not make it worse.  It is the first step to resolving it.
  • You may call the Office of the Dean of Students (221-2510) to let them know of your concern.  This office is often the best position to gather information from a number of different sources.  The Dean of Students can also initiate a psychological evaluation, if there is sufficient concern.
  • You may call the Counseling Center 221-3620 for a consultation about the student.  The staff there will be glad to talk with you about your hunches, worries, and concern.  We can sometimes offer suggestions that will help you decide on your next course of action with a student. 
  • You can make a referral to the Counseling Center by talking with the student, and then calling us to let us know what you are concerned about.  It is helpful for us to have information about what the student maybe struggling with even if it is difficult for them to tell us right away.  Keep in mind that when you make a referral we tell you whether the student came in without their permission.  However, you can follow up by asking the student about their experience.  If the student is dissatisfied because of something we may have done, and may not return, please let us know.  If they refuse to return because of their own reason don't give up.  If your concerns persist revisit your referral from time to time.
  • If  you have immediate concerns about a student's safety, stay with the student and notify the Dean of Students Office, Counseling Center, Health Center (221-4386), and/or Campus Police (221-4596) immediately.  These offices will then implement the College's suicide prevention policy.  An immediate evaluation by mental health professionals will be arranged.
Issues to Consider
  • Avoid making sweeping promises of confidentiality, particularly if a student represents a safety risk to him or her-self.  Students who are suicidal need swift professional intervention, and assurances of absolute confidentiality may get in the way.
  • It is acceptable to stay "in role" as a faculty member.  You do not have to take on the role of counselor.  You need only to watch and refer.  If you do have counseling background and feel comfortable discussing a problem with a student, you may still want to consult with one of the offices listed above.  If a student needs help but does not want to interact with campus offices, you can contact the Colonial Mental Health Center (mental health counseling, 220- 3200), Bacon Street (mental health counseling, 253-0111), or Avalon (sexual assault counseling, 258-5051) for assistance.  However, if a student is suicidal, you must notify one of the campus offices noted above.  By suicidal, we mean students (1) have stated an intention to die or cause harm to themselves, (2) have reported they made a suicide attempt or inflicted an injury on themselves within the recent past, or (3) have left you with an uneasy feeling with respect to their safety.