Student’s quick thinking and CPSO quell threatening situation
On Thursday, Oct. 6, Portland State dodged a potential crisis thanks to the actions of a responsible student as well as a useful on-campus resource designed for just such a situation.
A student in Philosophy 416: The Rationalists, while engaged in a heated discussion with professor Angela Coventry, lost control and began to angrily shout at everyone in the room. A more serious situation seemed imminent: several onlookers felt that the altercation was about to turn physical.
“He was shouting at the professor for a long time,” said Ian Henderson, a student who witnessed the disturbance. “He was arguing with her about course material, and he gradually got more upset as the discussion went on. Then, after a while, he started cutting her off and yelling about how he had a right to share his opinions and that it was being taken from him.”
It was at this point that the situation had the potential to escalate into a dangerous problem. Another student stood up and loudly told the agitator to “shut up,” which led to the agitator responding with a shouted threat of physical violence.
“I was pretty sure that a fistfight was going to break out,” Henderson said.
Coventry did not respond to requests for comment.
Luckily, a student was responsible enough to run to the Student Center for Dispute Resolution Office, located several doors down from the classroom. A conflict management representative showed up right away, and the argument was quickly diffused.
“Within minutes, everything had returned to normal,” Henderson said. “It was lucky that that person had the foresight to know that the office was right down the hallway.”
“CPSO provides an emergency resource guide on how to respond to a variety of situations on campus,” said Phillip Zerzan, director of the Campus Public Safety Office. “CPSO will respond to incidents, both to assess and to de-escalate.”
The guide specifically instructs students and staff to “not attempt to apprehend or interfere with” the person suspected of violence, “except in case of self-protection.”
Zerzan noted that the 911 system would “likely be overwhelmed” with calls if utilized for all PSU campus issues and advised students to program the phone numbers of the CPSO emergency line, 503-725-4404, and PSU Alert, 877-725-9111, into their cell phones.
Besides proper procedural approaches to emergency situations, PSU also has a code of conduct designed to help students recognize negative classroom and campus behaviors.
“Portland State has a code of conduct for all students that outlines basics of behavior both in and out of the classroom,” said Domanic Thomas, director of Conduct and Community Standards. “When a student is asked to stop a specific behavior, it then becomes a code violation by ‘failure to comply’ when they do not, and the faculty member may ask the student to leave for the day.”
“We give instructors this role because we must maintain a productive learning environment for the other 20 to 30 students who all pay tuition for the material being presented and not to hear a disgruntled student,” Thomas said.
Thomas addressed students’ roles in these kinds of situations by pointing out that they “are asked to report any behavior they consider threatening,” and that the “immediate threat should be dealt with by contacting CPSO as well, and we will follow up in a similar manner.”
These resources are always ready for students who require emergency help in any situation.
“We work closely with our on-campus partners, including the dean of students and Student Health and Counseling, to provide a collaborative response to student behavior that is disruptive and, sometimes, unlawful,” Zerzan said.