One of the most difficult parts of a student affairs professional’s job is addressing student infractions. While college is a time of experimentation and exploration, higher education professionals are responsible for maintaining boundaries that keep students (and the campus community) safe and focused. When student conduct violates your policies, it’s critical to apply consequences fairly and do whatever you can to redirect that student’s behavior. Often, one infraction and trip to the Dean of Student’s office is enough to get a student back on the right track. Sometimes, however, there are deeper issues at play. How do you know when an infraction is a symptom of a larger issue that needs to be addressed?
Keeping an Eye on Mental Health
Many students struggle with their mental health while in university. They could be struggling to deal with a long-standing issue in this different environment or a new issue could arise. When providing support to students who have committed an infraction, pay attention to warning signs that could point to mental health issues. Is the student’s behavior out of character? Are they struggling to contain their emotions and exhibiting dramatic outbursts? Are their actions or speech outside the norm for a young adult? Use your experience and instincts to spot red flags. If you have suspicions, refer the student to your counseling staff. Even minor infractions could be a symptom of a larger mental health issue, so pay attention to warning signs whenever you’re working with a student.
Identifying Addiction Concerns
Many (but not all) students experiment with alcohol and drugs while in school, and many infractions will be linked to the use of substances. Most students will learn their lesson on their own, but some may be struggling with a substance abuse problem. If the student is experiencing repeated negative consequences from alcohol use, they may need counseling to determine the extent of their substance abuse issues and how to address them. Keep an eye out for patterns of infractions while drinking and pay attention to trends in grades. Both are sources of data to determine if a student is struggling with substance use. Counseling staff will have the resources and referral sources needed to guide these students in the right direction.
Being Aware of Possible Interpersonal Issues
Conduct issues can also be a reflection of interpersonal issues students are facing, be it with a significant other, friends, roommates or family. Violent outbursts, excessive alcohol use and other disruptive or dangerous behavior can be a signal that a student is dealing with issues in one (or more) of their personal relationships. Look for other warning signs like a student repeatedly being seen with bruises or posting telling material on social media
Some student conduct jeopardizes the health and wellness of the entire campus community. As you address individual student infractions, take advantage of the university’s counseling resources at your disposal to get to the roots of the issues. Ensuring student success requires that your institution proactively uses its student support resources as issues arise, not after it’s too late.