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Putting it all together - Campus Life - Book Excerpt

This excerpt is from Confidence in Conflict for Campus Life by Jill Weisensel.  Chapter 7 -  Putting it all together.

Enjoy this excerpt from one of our published books.

Chapter 7

Putting it all together

Throughout the course of this book, you have learned many new concepts. With training and practice, you will learn how to use these skills to keep you and your friends safe. Now I’d like to take a look at some of the specific situations that you will likely encounter on a college campus so you can better understand how to start using these skills right away. Some of the scenarios you will likely encounter are roommate conflicts, party conflicts, hazing, sexual assault situations, spring break and study abroad conflicts, social media monitoring, school shooter situations/mass casualty incidents, and student-law enforcement interactions. Let’s take a look.

Roommate Conflicts

Yes, it’s true. Your roommate may not be exactly what you were hoping for. One of the primary sources of stress for college students, in addition to academics and the mounting pressure of student loan repayment, is not getting along with their roommates. In extreme cases, your university may be able to reassign you to a new room or provide you with a different roommate, but that isn’t always the case. 

That means that you will have to effectively communicate with them to manage conflict, or you run the risk of constantly fighting with them or trying to avoid them all year. That is not a situation you want to find yourself in, especially while trying to manage your class load and extracurricular activities.

If you do find yourself in a conflict with your roommate, be prepared to use the Persuasion Sequence, Emotion Guards, and Redirections to help you navigate the conversation. Remember all the way back to the beginning of the book when Jordan stole Amanda’s iPod on the first day of school? Let’s use some of these communication skills to try and get Amanda’s iPod back:

Amanda: “Jordan? I can’t find my iPod. Have you seen it?” Jordan: “Nope.”

Amanda: “Really? Because I left it right here charging before I left and you were the only one in the room. It’s important to me—my dad bought it for my birthday. Are you sure you hav- en’t seen it?” (ask and explain why)

Jordan: “No. Sorry.”

Amanda: “Ok Jordan, well here’s the thing. I left it here and I was only gone an hour. You were the only one in the room. If you took it, I don’t really care about the cops at this point—I just want it back. So here are the options. I will leave the room and go to dinner. If you took it, please put it back on my desk. No questions asked and I won’t speak of it again. But if I leave and you don’t put it back, I’m going to have to talk with hall staff and possibly even the campus police. You and I are both trying to study abroad next year; you know we don’t need to have our names in a police report which would jeopardize our chances of getting into the program. Could you work with me here?” (offer options, let them choose)

Jordan: “Oh, I didn’t know that a police report could hurt our chances of going abroad. Well. Ok. I guess I will see you after dinner then.

As you can see, the progression of the Persuasion Sequence helped Amanda steer the conversation towards a positive outcome. In this situation, Amanda would have most likely gone to dinner and found her iPod on her desk when she got back. And if not? Well then Amanda would confirmed Jordan’s non-cooperation (give opportunity to reconsider) and, possibly, would need to Take Appropriate Action by talking with hall staff. Let’s take a look at another situation using a room party example. This time Jordan will be even more verbally resistant to Amanda’s request:

Amanda: “Dude, Jordan, it’s Wednesday night and you’ve got like six people in the room drinking, and you’re music is pretty awful. Could you please move the party somewhere else?” (Step One)

Jordan: “Hey Amanda what’s up??! You should just stop talking and come pre-game with us. That sounds like a better idea!”

Amanda: “Jordan seriously, it’s a Wednesday night, we both have an exam tomorrow at 8 a.m., and I really need to study. Could you please go somewhere else?” (ask and explain why)

Jordan: “No way, this is my room too. I’m already failing the class. So how about you take your brainiac self down to the library.”

Amanda: “Well I’m sorry you’re failing, but we could turn that around you know (Redirection). I could help you. But right now I am asking you to please be respectful of our space. I think we have some good options here. Brooke’s roommate is one and no one is over there. Why don’t you go party over there where you can have louder music and less hall staff walk through. I’d hate to see you guys get caught for drinking in the dorm.” (offer options, let them choose)

Jordan: “Ha, we’ll never get caught.”

Amanda: “Look. I don’t want to see you get written up again. Any- one on this floor could call you in right now. Don’t risk it. Is there anything I can say to get you to move this party?” (give opportunity to reconsider)

Jordan: “Um. No.”

Amanda: “Alright then, I’m sorry. I’m going to have to talk with hall staff.”

I’ve seen the Persuasion Sequence resolve hundreds of conflicts, with a positive result and nobody getting hurt. Aside from being able to communicate with your roommate, here are a couple other tips that you should be mindful of regarding your room, especially if you’re living in a community style dormitory or residence hall:

  • Don’t ever leave your door unlocked or promote an “always open, come on in” Lock your door, even if you leave “just for a minute.”
  • Don’t leave notes on your door or your door’s dry erase board saying where you are or when you’ll be back. This is just telling everyone that your room is Send a text or call your friends that need to know where you are.
  • If you have card or key access to your building, be mindful of people “piggy backing” your entry in order to gain access. If you don’t recognize them, don’t hesitate to ask them if they have their key, or what they’re doing in the building. If you are too shy to talk to them, try and monitor where they go in the building so you can relay the information to hall staff. The person may have access to the building, but they may not. It is best to clarify.
  • If you have prescription drugs, keep them in the prescription containers and keep them in a secure place. Prescription drug theft is increasing on college campuses, and there are hefty fines and jail time associated with being in possession of unmarked prescription medication!

Party Conflicts and Hazing

Partying is an undeniable truth of campus life, and yes, some students party a whole lot more than others. The belief that every student parties and the belief that every student drinks is a myth. In fact, research shows that over 70% of incoming college students identify as alcohol abstainers before they get to college. However, there are certain aspects of college life, such as unstructured time, the widespread availability and promotion of alcohol, and limited interactions with parents or other adults, which can increase the number of students who participate in high risk drinking behaviors, such as binge drinking and pre-gaming.

With that being said, you will most likely find yourself either facing some type of party related conflict during your college career. It could be noise complaints from loud music, medical incidents as a result of intoxication, or intoxicated friends damaging property or getting into fights. And believe it or not, contrary to popular belief, alcohol is also considered the number one date rape drug. Alcohol is involved in over 80% of campus sexual assaults. Regardless of what extent you choose to participate in the “college party scene,” the impact of alcohol and alcohol-induced behavior will inevitably be all around you.

Dealing with intoxicated friends can be extremely frustrating. You will find yourself trying to talk with them and pleading with them to go home, and they will fight you. They will yell at you and call you names. They will be wasted and they will tell you that they still don’t want to leave. They could also get angry and physically aggressive with you—I’ve heard many stories of college students taking swings at and actually punching their friends while intoxicated.

This is the arena where you will want to be on your “A” game, and you will put all of your skills to the test. In the 540 Degree Proxemic Management section, we talked about being mindful of your hands—to keep them above waist height in case you need to quickly protect your face. Well, this is where it becomes a reality. Imagine trying to help an intoxicated friend who has fallen to the ground, and as you lean over to put your arm around them and pick them up, they try to push you away and accidently punch you in the face. It does happen, and noses are broken, and teeth are knocked out. Don’t get complacent just because they are your friends; use the skills you have learned!

The last time we left Jordan, she was debating about what to do when Amanda was faced with having to do a keg stand that she didn’t want to do. Let’s take a look at what happened next:

Jordan looked at Amanda and knew she had to intervene. “Boys, boys, boys,” she said, “Don’t waste beer on someone who doesn’t want to drink. I will gladly help you out.” Brian laughed, “Aw come on, I already know you like to drink. Come help us.” “Actually, I’m pretty sure she will just get sick and throw up on your new Air Maxes. Besides, I don’t want to be responsible for her the rest of the night. Why don’t you guys just stop?” As Jordan was deciding her options, Amanda’s friend Brooke stopped in the kitchen and overheard Jordan’s objection. “Oh hey girl, we’ve been looking for you! You’re coming with me.” Brooke and Jordan then grabbed Aman- da, and took her out of the house. “Thanks guys,” Amanda said. “No problem,” Brooke replied, “It was time to get out of there anyway. Let’s go get something to eat.”

As you can see, it was a combination of Jordan’s communication skills and Brooke’s level of awareness and quick intervention strategy (Cut and Divide) that helped get Amanda out of the negative situation. The more scenarios you encounter, the easier it will become for you to put all of the intervention pieces together. Pretty soon, it will just become second nature.

There is, however, another dangerous activity that goes hand in hand with college parties, and that’s hazing. Hazing is an extreme form of “initiating” someone into a new group, whether it be a new group of friends, a team, club, or organization. The initiation process often involves drinking or being forced to drink an excessive amount of alcohol, and participation in an activity or series of activities that are embarrassing or demeaning to the initiate. If you find yourself in a hazing situation, or you become aware of a hazing situation before, during, or after the fact, you must realize the seriousness of the issue. While you may have the skills you need to directly intervene in a hazing situation, you must consider the fact that hazing is group driven and ritualistic, and if you try to intervene directly, you will most likely face an extreme amount of peer pressure and disapproval.

If you become aware of a hazing incident, get as much information as you can about it: when and where it is occurring (or has occurred), who is all involved, and what types of activities will be taking place. Take this information to campus authorities immediately. This will be one of those situations where you may fear that you are “snitching” and won’t want to get involved. However, there is a difference between snitching, or tattling to maliciously get someone in trouble, and reporting, which is trying to prevent a situation from getting worse. Extreme incidents of hazing have contributed to many student injuries and deaths. Report the information that is necessary, and you may just save the life of one of your friends.

Finally, if you do decide to party and you do decide to drink, remember these tips:

  • Drink only if you are of legal age to drink, and drink in moderation.
  • Know your This means being mindful of the effects of “a beer,” versus “several beers,” and knowing how different drinks affect you. College parties often involve drinking games, where you could potentially be drinking a large quantity of alcohol in a short amount of time. This is a sure fire way to get yourself extremely sick. Remember, the danger of drinking goes beyond just the medical danger. Drinking is dangerous because of what actions and behaviors take place while intoxicated.
  • Be conscious of what is “a drink,” and understand different cup sizes.
  • Watch your Never accept alcohol from people you don’t know, and if you leave your drink unattended for any period of time, dump it out and get a new one.
  • Go out in a If you leave with friends, make sure you come back with them. Before you go out, determine what time you will plan on leaving, and designate a driver. If you aren’t driving, it is still a good idea to designate a sober watchdog for your group.
  • Take only what you really need with you. Do you really need everything that is in your wallet or purse? Just bring the amount of money you need, your ID, and your phone. I can’t tell you how many people I know who have gone out thinking they’d only spend $50 in a night, only to find out the next day (sober) that they picked up a $300 bar tab on their credit card.

Party Conflicts and Sexual Assault

Parties also serve as a place to meet new people and to hang out with new friends. You may even meet somebody that you’d like to get into a relationship with. Some of your parents may have even been college sweethearts. But there is also a dark side to the world of college parties and campus life, and that includes dating violence and sexual assaults. This may be a very difficult topic for some of you to read about, as many people have already been directly affected by this type of crime. If you find this topic too difficult for you, please take care of yourself, and if you need to skip to the next section—please do!

Sexual assault may be uncomfortable to think about, and you may even be thinking, “It will never happen toGraphic-1-Campus-Life-Chapter-7 me.” But, the sad truth is that it does happen, and it happens way more than it should on college campuses all over the country. In fact, statistics show that each year, an estimated 97,000 students (between the ages of 18 and 24) are victims of alcohol related sexual assault. It is estimated that 1 in 5 women (that’s 20%) will be the victim of sexual assault during her time at college, and they are the most vulnerable to sexual assault during the first few weeks at school (think: new environment, peer pressure to drink, meet new people, and fit in). But sexual assault is not just a woman’s issue—men are also the victims of sexual assault. If you’ve had any previous sexual assault prevention training, I’m sure you’ve heard something like, “If you’re a female, protect yourself so you don’t get raped.” The advice to protect yourself is just as important for men. Whether you are a male or a female, there are ways to increase your awareness to conditions that may make you (and your friends) more vulnerable, and precautions you can take to reduce your own vulnerability. And whether you’re male or female, you need to understand the laws regarding consent so that if you engage in sexual activity you don’t make assumptions about consent that are not what the other person wants, and fit the definition of sexual assault. It is important to remember that if you want a higher level of contact, you are responsible for understanding whether or not your partner is also interested in this level of sexual contact, and also knowing whether or not your partner is even able to give consent. These are critical points for you to understand, as the repercussions of sexual assault are devastating and lifelong for everyone involved. Because consent is so important, we will focus on it more in a little bit.

Before we do that, let’s try and unpack this problem a little further and start with some overall context. First of all, in order to understand what dating violence and sexual assault are, we need to know what a healthy relationship actually looks like. Now I know you’re thinking, “Duh, Jill, I’m in a good relationship; I know what it is.” But it’s worth being clear about what we mean when we talk about healthy (and unhealthy) relationships. So here are some traits of healthy relationships:

  • Both parties are mutually invested in the relationship and in the enjoyment of each other.
  • Both parties support each other’s opportunities for growth.
  • Both parties share their emotions.
  • Non-sexual and sexual contact is intended to be mutually pleasing, and should build feelings of intimacy and trust.

So, as you can see, healthy relationships are mutual, respectful, and involve open communication. Unhealthy relationships include the opposite of the above list - they lack mutuality, respect and open communication. There are also several red flag risk indicators that are found amongst perpetrators of dating violence. They are:

  • Quick attachment: you’ve only known each other for a short while, but suddenly their head over heels in love and already talking marriage and babies.
  • Controlling behavior: they will try to prevent you from doing things you want to do, especially if you want to go without They will do things to manipulate your time.
  • Jealousy: they become jealous of your other friends, hobbies, or successes.
  • Blaming: they will continually blame you for things that were out of your control.
  • “Hot” and “cold” behavior: they are generally quick to anger.
  • These types of people will also try to belittle, intimidate, and humiliate you.
  • They may also show signs of “stalking” behavior; things like showing up unexpectedly wherever you are, making direct threats, or sending cryptic or awkward e-mails, voicemails, or social media If a situation reaches this level and you feel like you are being stalked, you probably are. Recognize the seriousness of the issue- if the nature of the behavior keeps escalating, cease contact and contact campus security/police.

Now that you get the general idea of what distinguishes a healthy relationship from an unhealthy one, let’s take a look at sexual assault and what leads up to it.

Sexual assault can be committed by someone you’re dating, by someone you don’t even know, or by someone you hardly know. On college campuses, over 90% of sexual assaults are committed by persons known to the victim—meaning they either knew them from a class, a party, or through friends. In your mind, I’m sure you’re thinking that this sounds like it could be “date rape.” I am choosing not to use the term date rape because it undermines the seriousness of sexual assault. If a sexual assault reaches the level of rape, it is in fact rape. Different states have different laws and classifications for sexual assault, so you should talk with your campus security/police and ask them about the sexual assault laws and statutes that pertain to your particular campus. For the purpose of this book, however, I am going to use an umbrella classification for sexual assault, and define sexual assault as “any unwanted contact that is sexual in nature.”


You, and only you, can give consent to someone else to touch your body. Your body and your space are yours and yours alone. Remember earlier when Amanda was being dragged to the keg? While that is not an example of sexual contact, it is an example of non-consensual contact- the other students did not have permission to grab her, because Amanda never consented and said they could.

With that being said, I am not going to talk about the moral ramifications of engaging in sexual behaviors. I am simply acknowledging that at some point, college students will face a decision to engage in sexual activity, and unfortunately, many of you will find yourselves in a position where someone is trying to pressure you into engaging in some type of sexual activity.

If you find yourself being pressured into doing something you don’t want to do—don’t do it! Any pressure to engage in any type of behavior is a red flag risk indicator, also called “aggressor characteristics.” This is just one of many red flag risk indicators that have been found amongst perpetrators of sexual assault. According to the Student Success “Unless There’s Consent” sexual assault prevention education program and nationally recognized clinical psychologist and sexual assault prevention consultant, Dr. David Lisak, examples of red flags indicators include:

  • The perpetrator has a strong belief in traditional gender roles.
  • They are selfish about the relationship, or about their time with you.
  • They typically have a strong male social group.
  • They lack respect for personal People who don’t respect your personal space, touch you inappropriately, or pursue affection early in a relationship are at greater risk of being predators.
  • They have “rape myth” acceptance: they think that the victim of rape “had it coming” because of the way they dressed, where they were walking, etc.
  • They are poor communicators, generally manipulative, and full of excuses.
  • They have trust issues. People who raise trust issues early in a relationship, saying things like “don’t you trust me?” are at very high risk for predatory behavior. Such statements are often a sign that they don’t actually trust themselves. Trust is something that develops slowly in a relationship and is earned with time and experience. There is no reason to fully trust someone you don’t know well.
  • They “push” drugs or alcohol on their victims (over 80% of campus sexual assaults involve alcohol because alcohol limits inhibitions and slows our decision making ability). Someone who pushes you to use drugs or alcohol is high risk. It is important to question someone’s motives when they seem set on getting you drunk.
  • They are violent or have a history of violence (towards other people, animals, or property for example).

Remember, just because someone may exhibit red flag behaviors, it doesn’t mean they are “a rapist.” Research has shown that that majority of sexual predators are men, but that over 94% of men will never commit this crime. Of the 6% who do, many are repeat offenders. So with that being said, people exhibiting one or two of these traits aren’t necessarily sexual predators, but someone exhibiting many of these red flags, may be. Pay attention to the red flags and take inventory of them in an effort to protect yourself and others.

Finally, you should educate yourself about consent. As I mentioned earlier, only you can give consent to someone else to touch your body. Again, different states legally define consent in different ways, so you should check with your campus authorities to determine the legal way in which consent is defined on your campus. However, I can provide you with some general guidelines. Generally speaking, if alcohol is involved in any way, you are treading in dangerous territory because most laws surrounding consent include a clause that if you’re intoxicated, you can’t legally give consent. Remember, there’s a reason why over 80% of college sexual assaults involve alcohol. Additionally, the burden of getting consent falls to whichever person is trying to elevate to the next level of intimacy. Consent must be freely given to that person, and the process of giving and getting consent should be continuous. Consent should be a clearly defined, clearly stated, and enthusiastically stated “yes.” Consent is not the absence of “no.” And lastly, if you remember nothing else about consent, remember that if “fear is in the room, consent is not.” If you fear for your safety or feel pressured or coerced in any way to engage in any type of sexual activity, don’t do it. Communicate clearly that you are uncomfortable with the situation, and if you need to, leave and/or get help.

A Word about High Stress Situations and Trauma

Over 80% of the time, a victim of sexual assault will disclose to a friend that they’ve been assaulted beforeGraphic-2-Campus-Life-Chapter-7 they will report it to campus authorities. In the event that someone discloses to you that they’ve been sexually assaulted, it is imperative that you believe them. Sexual assault is a highly traumatic experience, and the information they are telling you may seem confusing to you, and that’s OK. Just listen, and be there for them. Encourage them to report the crime to the police (if and when they are ready to). If the sexual assault just occurred, encourage them not to change their clothes, not to wash their clothes, not to shower, and encourage them to go to a local sexual assault treatment center. This will be difficult for both you and your friend, but with strength and support, you can help them through this horrible experience.

There are many reasons why victims of sexual assaults are scared to report the crime to the police. They are generally scared that no one will believe them, for one, and they are generally humiliated and embarrassed. Sexual assault victims may also experience a lot of self- blaming and self-shaming, and struggle to grasp the idea that they could possibly be a “rape victim.” In the event that they knew their attacker, it is also difficult for them to believe that someone they trusted could be a “rapist.” As they are struggling to make sense of this situation, again, it is crucial that you believe them and offer your support.

As a result of the trauma, it could be difficult for them to recall the exact specifics of the event. Facts may seem missing, and the chronology of what lead up to the assault may seem disjointed. This is in fact, a completely normal response amongst individuals who have experienced a traumatic event. After a high stress incident, whereas their “fight or flight” instincts may have kicked in, it could actually take someone two full sleep cycles before actually being able to recall events surrounding the incident. Be mindful of this fact, and be the best ally to the sexual assault survivor you can be!

Spring Break

Spring break stories are legendary. I’m sure you’ve all heard the crazy spring break stories, filled with sun and beach time. When you finally decide where you’re going for spring break, you’re going to need to do a safety assessment before you leave, as it will be a new environment for you.

Here are some tips:

  • Find out if your spring break spot is in a high crime neighborhood, and get the phone number for local police.
  • Tell your family (or someone you trust back home) exactly where you will be staying, when you will be leaving, and when you’ll be home.
  • Find out if your hotel has camera systems and controlled entry.
  • Determine the safest route to get to the beach and night life.
  • Locate the closest hospital.
  • When you travel, always keep your belongings close to you.
  • If you need to use local transportation, use a real cab line, or be sure to validate freelance sources.

Study Abroad

If you choose to study abroad, you will be faced with the challenge of learning yet another new environment. It is important that you learn all that you can about where you will be living, before you get there. Talk to students who have studied where you’re going, and to people who have lived in the same place that you will be living. If you don’t know anyone, talk with your study abroad coordinator so that you can get specific information about the area. Here are some tips regarding information you should be gathering:

  • Find out if it’s in a high crime neighborhood, and get the phone number for local police.
  • Find out if your new residence has camera systems and controlled entry.
  • Determine the safest route to get to your classes.
  • Locate the closest hospital.
  • Program the emergency contact numbers for your school in case you need them.

Social Media: The Era of the Digital Tattoo

In the era of social media and digital everything, now more than ever, our personal information is everywhere. If you think I’m kidding, run a search engine search of your name and find out just how many things the internet knows about you—maybe even things you wish it didn’t. While you’re away at college, it may be tempting to put a lot of your contact information online, but don’t give into the temptation. Putting your personal information online will only set you up for trouble, including potential stalking incidents and identity theft. You have a lot more to lose than you do to gain from putting highly personal information online. Identity theft comes in many forms. People can steal your personal information through:

  • Social media sites
  • Phishing and Pharming
  • “Dumpster Diving”
  • “Shoulder Surfing”

Limit the amount of personal information you upload to your social media sites. It’s OK to be vague. Try using a city nickname or come up with a creative job title. Everything you upload to the internet will forever become your digital tattoo. If using social media sites such as Facebook or Foursquare, consider using a name other than your real name, and think twice about where and when you “check in” to locations. Yes, checking in is a cool way to tell your friends where you are, but it also alerts people you don’t want following you of your location. Use common sense so that people can’t track your every move. Additionally, be mindful of the types of pictures you post, as employers are increasingly surveying the social media sources of potential hires!

Phishing and pharming are two additional ways in which people try to steal your information, either through e-mail or through actual legitimate websites, such as sites you may buy products from. If you choose to make online purchases, make sure you are buying from reputable sellers that secure your banking information, and be careful of people who may be “shoulder surfing,” looking over your shoulder, as you as you enter in personal information such as credit card numbers at computer kiosks or retrieve money from an ATM.

Dumpster diving is a method that people use to steal your personal information that literally involves them going through dumpsters or garbage cans to try and retrieve your personal information off of things like letters or credit card statements. Be sure to shred all of your mail or any other documents containing personal information that you no longer need.

Throughout the course of this book, I have mentioned several times how important it is to put away your cell phones and to look where you’re going. Believe me; I love to text as much as the next person, so I know how hard this can be to do. However, it is possible to use your cell phone as a safety tool. Make sure it’s fully charged before you head out, so that you don’t run the risk of having a dead cell phone when you need someone’s number or you need to look up GPS directions. Make a plan before you go out just in case your phone dies, so that you can meet up with your friends at a specific location at a predetermined time. If you find yourself in an uncomfortable situation, you can always use your phone to shoot a quick text to a friend so they can come pick you up.

Finally, it is believed that by 2016, over 90% percent of college students will have a smartphone. While you will probably utilize your smartphones for texting and surfing the web, there are several companies producing safety related smartphone applications. Smartphone apps are a great tool for students because they are easily accessible and typically low cost or free. These apps, such as Circle of 6 or Guardly, will allow you to alert certain people of your GPS location if you encounter a dangerous situation. These types of apps can also provide real- time emergency incident monitoring and communication with local authorities. Take a look at the applications available to, or speak with your campus authorities to see if they have any apps they recommend.

School Shooter and Mass Casualty Incidents

You have probably noticed the increase in school shootings over the past several years. You may even have experienced one close to your hometown, or worse, you may have lived through one. Regardless of your experience or level of knowledge surrounding school shooter incidents, there are many things that you can do to help keep yourself alive in the event that a shooting happens on your campus. Remember that we’re practicing “when-then” thinking: although I hope you never have to use this information, I want you to be prepared in case you find yourself in such a crisis. The increase in school shootings has lead people to try and figure out the “profile” of a school shooter. Unfortunately, there is no “tried and true” profile of a person who will commit a school shooting. Research has shown that people do not typically just “snap,” but will generally display indicators of potentially violent behavior over time. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) advises that “if these behaviors are recognized early, they can often be managed.” Potentially violent behaviors by a student may include one or more of the following (this list of behaviors produced by the DHS is not comprehensive, nor is it intended as a mechanism for diagnosing violent tendencies):

  • Increased use of alcohol and/or illegal drugs
  • Noticeable decrease in attention to appearance and hygiene
  • Depression/withdrawal
  • Resistance and overreaction to changes in policy and procedures
  • Repeated violations of company policies
  • Increased severe mood swings
  • Noticeably unstable, emotional responses
  • Explosive outbursts of anger or rage without provocation
  • Suicidal comments
  • Behavior which is suspect of The “everybody is against me” mentality.
  • Talk of previous incidents of violence
  • Empathy towards individuals committing violent acts

If you observe somebody exhibiting a combination of these behaviors, it would be advisable to report the behavior to campus authorities. People exhibiting these behaviors may seem distressed, and you may start to hear subtle comments or verbal threats. Studies have shown that in many cases, persons who commit violent acts told someone else they were going to do it before the incident occurred. Threats can be made in person directly, or can be overheard. Threats can be:

Specific: “Just wait until everyone sees the bomb I’ve made. They won’t think I’m such a loser then.”

Veiled: “I’d not show up to class tomorrow. Mr. Jones is going to get it.”

Direct: “Don’t talk down to me like that. I will make your life a living hell.”

Indirect: “I just wish I’d never been born.”

Conditional: “If he doesn’t show up with my money, I will make him pay.”

If you become aware of a threat, take it seriously and inform campus authorities. Even if the person was not serious, he or she may need help dealing with personal issues or stressors, and the campus personnel can help find the resources that person needs. Take good notes about their description, and take a picture of them if you can. This will help campus police locate the subject they may not recognize.

When the Shooting Starts

In the event that you are in class or on campus and you do hear gunfire, here is what to expect when the shooting starts.

Your body will most likely kick into a “fight or flight response.” There are multiple physiological changes your body will experience during a “fight or flight adrenaline dump.” You will experience perceptual narrowing (tunnel vision), near sightedness, auditory exclusion (extremely limited hearing), and a possible change in your perception of time. You will also experience a rapid increase in your heart rate and breathing, so it will be critical for you to control and slow your breathing to try and reverse these effects. You may also find that you are less receptive to communication, less capable of critical thinking or problem solving, and experience a loss of tactile function (shaking). You will encounter chaos and confusion. You will need to recognize the sound of gunshots, and if you’ve never heard them in real life before, you will realize they sound much different than those in movies or video games. You will most likely witness many people trying to evacuate in a chaotic pattern.

In the event that you do hear gunfire, or you become aware of a school shooter on campus, either through your university’s text messaging system or from a friend, you should first try to evacuate and get as far away from the shooter as possible. If you can get to an escape route, you should leave your belongings behind, and helps others escape if possible. According to the DHS, you should evacuate regardless of whether others agree to follow you, and you should do your best to prevent other people from entering an area where the active shooter may be. While you are escaping to safety, keep your hands visible (raised, empty, and fingers spread) so that incoming law enforcement officers can recognize that you are not a threat. Do not make any sudden movements towards them, or attempt to hold on to them for safety. Remain calm, and follow any instructions given to you by law enforcement officers. Do not stop or slow down to help move wounded people. Call 911 as soon as it is safe to do so, and if you have an accurate description of the shooter’s identity or location, give it to them. A good example would include:

  • Location of the active shooter
  • Number of shooters, if more than one
  • Physical description of shooter/s (height, weight, shape, clothing colors)
  • Number and type of weapons held by the shooter/s (hand gun, rifle, shotgun etc.)
  • Number of potential victims at the location

If you are unable to evacuate, it is advised that you try and hide. You need to locate a place where the active shooter is unlikely to find you. This should be a place out of the shooter’s view, and should provide protection in the event that shots are fired in your direction. Don’t go to place that traps or restricts your options for movement, and if you are behind a door, lock it and barricade it with heavy items. Be mindful to silence your phones, and try your best to remain silent, so as not to give away your location.

As a last resort, and only when your life is in imminent danger, attempt to disrupt and/or incapacitate the active shooter by acting as aggressively as possible against the shooter, by throwing items and improvising weapons. If you do choose to engage the shooter, you must commit to your actions, and realize it’s a life or death situation.

“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”

– Benjamin Franklin

Jill Weisensel

Jill Weisensel / About Author

Jill brings 20 years of combined experience in hospital security and law enforcement, spending the majority of her career working in an urban campus environment in charge of night shift patrol operations (as a Lieutenant). She also has a background in active-shooter prevention and tactical response, sexual assault prevention, bystander intervention, trauma-informed care and PTS(D). A relentless researcher and experienced public speaker, Jill has spoken at dozens of conferences and trainings across the U.S. and Canada.