Mitigating Disruptive Behavior Online

Occasionally, Washington State University experiences threatening or disruptive behavior during an online class or event, a trend paralleled nationally at other campuses. As a faculty or staff member, you may find yourself having to contend with disruptive behavior online at some point during your career.

Behaviors that you may encounter range from simple disruptions in class, to ongoing harassment, to verbal and physical threats. The guidelines outlined here are designed to: 1) assist your department in thinking through its response to situations in which students may behave in unusual or unpredictable ways; 2) help you to be a support unit and handle an actual threat; and 3) assist you with referral and protocol procedures. When your department has prepared its faculty and staff adequately for such situations, the chances of serious disruption may be lessened.

  • Instructors should make sure they are familiar with the Zoom controls, which allow them to control the chat function, mute, and who can share their screen. Instructors can remove a student from a Zoom class and lock it so the student cannot return, if needed. IT has created some resources for this.
  • Instructors should clearly set expectations of what type of behavior is allowed in the classroom space and be prepared to enforce it. The Dean of Students has a guide on disruptive students that can be found here and here.
  • Instructors can report disruptions to the Student Care Network and Academic Alert System, Compliance and Civil Rights (CCR), the Center for Community Standards (CCS) or a student conduct officer (for non-discriminatory harassing/disruptive behavior). See detailed information below.
  • Instructors should also connect students impacted by the behavior to campus resources such as the Center for Intercultural Learning and Affirmation, Student Wellness Center, and the Office of Equity and Diversity.

When students are in distress, early intervention can make a big difference in outcomes. WSU Vancouver has two methods to request assistance for students.

  • The Student Care Network (former AWARE Network) should be used if you see a student who is in severe distress and who you are concerned may cause harm to self or others.
  • The Academic Alert System should be used if you see a student who is struggling academically and who would benefit from additional support.

To determine if Compliance and Civil Rights (CCR) would address the harassment, their definition of discriminatory harassment is as follows:

Discriminatory Harassment

Unwelcome, intentional conduct, on the basis of membership in a protected class, other than sex, which is so severe or pervasive, and objectively offensive, that it substantially and unreasonably:

  • Interferes with, or has the potential to interfere with, an individual’s ability to participate in WSU employment, education, programs, or activities;
  • Adversely alters the condition of an individual’s WSU employment, education, or participation status;
  • Creates an objectively abusive employment, program, or educational environment; or
  • Results in a material or substantial disruption of WSU’s operations or the rights of students, staff, faculty, visitors, or program participants.

More information about CCR can be found here.

To determine if the Center for Community Standards (CCS) would address disruption or harassment, use WAC 504-26-203 to determine if the behavior is prohibited:

Students have the right to freedom of speech, including the right to dissent or protest, but this expression may not interfere with the rights of others or disrupt the university's activities. Prohibited behavior includes: Disruption or obstruction of teaching, research, administration, disciplinary proceedings, other university activities, including its public service functions on or off campus, or of other authorized non-university activities when the conduct occurs on university premises or is directed toward any member of the university community by any means including use of telephone, computer, or some other medium.

More information about CCS can be found here.

This resource is provided by the Office of Equity and Diversity in partnership with Academic Affairs and Student Affairs and Enrollment.

Adapted from WSU Responding to Disruptive and Threatening Student Behavior Guidelines for Faculty and Staff.