Are Faculty Members Becoming Increasingly Scared Of The Students Sitting In Their Classrooms?

Are you finding it difficult to convince faculty members to take training to become First Observers of aggressive behavior in their classrooms? Let me share some thoughts that might aid in your convincing faculty members to become First Observers.  I have heard repeatedly from VPs of Student Affairs about the faculty members who contact them in a panic demanding that they remove a student immediately from their classroom and off the campus.  Of course, due to the due diligence requirement this will not happen. Upon interviewing the student the SAIT members typically finds one of two circumstances:  1) Because of the subjective nature of these accusations (scary, strange, weird) the faculty member has overstated the threat or 2) this faculty member should have reported this student to SAIT members months earlier due to the possible threat and did not.

Furthermore, we have been hearing from VPs of Student Affairs that faculty members are increasingly scared of the students sitting in their classrooms.  An explanation of this phenomena by Pulitzer nominated writer Lt. Col. Dave Grossman in his book “On Killing, The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kills in War and Society;” is a bit long and circuitous but important to understand.


We know that it is not instinctual for one human to attack another, they must disconnect, depersonalize, turn this person into an object, in order to attack them.  Because of this, at the end of World War Two, General Marshal conducted a study and found that only 15% of his soldiers raised their weapons and pulled the trigger with the intention of killing another human being.  This was unacceptable, so they changed from shooting at a “bull’s-eye” to a silhouette of a human that would pop-up, the soldier would fire and the silhouette would drop; in other words, they turned this shooting method into an “impulse shot.”  Due to this simple change in methodology, during the Korean War the shoot-rate exceeded 50% and in the Vietnam War the shoot-rate exceeded 90%. 


Leaping forward to the age of video games with virtual real images and sounds of death; Grossman makes the case that in the absence of a responsible adult making the important distinction between the virtual real world of the video game and the Real World we live in, are young people fully understanding the finality of death? When a gamer is shot and killed, they simply push the reset-button and continue playing. Do our young gamers fully understanding the impact of being shot or killed themselves?


Grossman explains that as a psychologist who lives in Paducah, Kentucky, he was one of the first on the scene when Michael Carneal, age 14, started shooting at Heath High School.  Once the first round was discharged there was pandemonium, panicked children were running in every direction.  Carneal fired 8 rounds, five were “head-shots” and the remaining were “upper-body-shots.”  This shoot-rate goes way off the charts because instinctually we shoot until our victim drops.  Michael Carneal was not shooting instinctually, he was playing his video game, which was later found in his basement and awarded extra points to players for “head-shots.”  Grossman explains that we our train soldiers to kill their enemy in a similar way and now we are generating an increasing number of students matriculating into our college and university classrooms who have lost their instinct not to kill another human being; and I would suggest that these are the students that are increasingly scaring faculty members across our Nation.


I am also hearing that there is an increasing number of students who are showing contempt and disrespect toward faculty who are not knowledgably about new technology.  As an example, these students want to “download” their books, not carry them from class to class.  This disrespect for faculty is getting rebuke from the increasing number of soldiers coming off the battlefield and into our classrooms.  These soldiers, who are offered free education in return for their service to Country, are older and very respectful of authority.  However, it is important to note that they, too, have long lost, on the battlefield, their instinct not to kill another human being.  It appears that all colleges and universities are vying for these soldiers and their government paid tuition. This conflict-dynamic of video-gaming younger students and older soldiers in classrooms is an increase concern to many Student Affairs professionals as I speak at conferences like NaBITA.


This may not yet be a dynamic on your campus.  It is my opinion that this is an increasing problem in the classroom and maybe an important and motivating message to share with your faculty members who are reluctant to learn the objective measures of aggressive behavior.


Our objective must always be “prevention” versus “reaction” to aggressive behavior.  The way to achieve prevention is learning that “aggression” begins well before two people are in conflict.  Like learning a new language, it is important to become fluent in Campus Aggression Prevention System (CAPS), a Risk Management System (RMS). It is my opinion that colleges and universities need to expand their First Observers so as to create an army of eyes and ears to detect aggressive behavior in an objective way and call this behavior into Behavioral Intervention Team members (Qualified Responders) to objectively evaluate this possible threat using the Meter of Emerging Aggression.

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