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I am a teaching assistant and master's student in the math dept. at a large state university. I was holding a discussion section this morning when some young man walks in with his shirt off acting verbally belligerent. He comes up to the front of the room and just kind of stands there, not saying anything just kind of smiling in this creepy way and showing absolutely no signs of embarrassment or anything. After asking the class if anyone knew him (no one did), I told him he could either leave right now or I would get someone to remove him. I'm a small guy and he wasn't huge but he was certainly bigger than me.

He didn't leave so I stepped out of the room to get someone, although in retrospect I had no idea at the time who I would have gotten, but then as soon as I stepped out I realized that that probably wasn't a good idea since he could take my stuff or who knows what. So I walked back in and sure enough he's got my water bottle in his hand, so I grab it from him and say something to the effect of,

​!@#$ it, does anyone big want to help me get this guy out of class?

And two guys stand up, and one of them is clearly super pissed at this guy disrupting class and goes straight over to the guy and BAM hits him in the face super hard and he goes down and then hits him again and then kicks him in the face all in the span of like 5 or 6 seconds, like a proper #$!%ing beat down, and there are girls screaming and I'm a bit in shock as I was expecting him to just kind of strong arm him out of the class, and one girl comes up and is like

stop hitting him stop hitting him!

I don't exactly remember what happened next, but the guy must have left and then the assistant dean appeared almost immediately. I talked to her privately and explained quickly what happened, but I didn't say that the student hit the guy, I just said he got him out of class. She said I would need to file a report. I then held class as usual, and everything was fine.

I tried to talk to the student privately after class, but the assistant dean came back in. I asked the assistant dean if she could step outside while I talked to the student in private, since I didn't want to incriminate him. But she got super offended and told me that "I shoo you, you don't shoo me, get this straight I'm your superior." So I apologized, but I think maybe the look on my face wasn't sufficiently contrite, I was really taken aback. So she writes down my name.

No one -- not my professor/student-teacher liaison, not my ombudsman -- seems to know what I should expect from all this. I also really don't want the student to get into trouble, since I did ask for help removing the guy. I scheduled a meeting with the dean, and now I'm super worried that I'm going to be fired or kicked out of my masters program. What should I expect from all this?

Update: I found out that the guy who was disrupting class got arrested later that day and he was not a student. I also talked to several students who said that this is not the first time he has done this, and that several weeks ago in another class he walked in and lit a cigarette, and the professor took the cigarette out of his mouth, stomped on it, and then physically threw him out of class.

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    I shoo you, you don't shoo me, get this straight I'm your superior — [facepalm]
    – JeffE
    Aug 29, 2013 at 0:45

5 Answers 5

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You should have called the campus security/police when the incident was happening.

Had you done that, you'd worry about nothing right now. How did you know that guy did not have a gun? Why did you ask the student to help you to get the guy out? It was the security/police officer's job. You put all the students' and your life in danger !

Now, what happened already happened, too late to change that. To answer your question, you should talk to your professor, the department chair and the assistant dean. File the report. Just tell them the truth. You can use this question as the draft of the report. Take out some improper words. Admit that you did not know the appropriate action to take when it happened and you learned a painful lesson. Ask them to provide security trainings so that you'll know what to do if this kind of thing ever happens again. They'll understand. I don't think you'll be kicked out. A reprehend action is probably unavoidable.

To answer the question directly: It really depends on your department and school. If they had established security procedure and provided training to all faculty, staff and students as how to deal with this kind of thing, then they should also have the procedure as how to deal with anyone who did not follow the procedure. If they never had the security procedure, It's time to have one now. You can put that in your report.

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    I really didn't know the appropriate action to take as I didn't know the # of campus security, and didn't even realize there was a phone in the room to call them on (assuming it had the # for them).
    – Set
    Aug 29, 2013 at 3:05
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    @banned This is something you can put in your report - you did not know what number to call. As available phone, in these days, many people have cell phones.
    – Nobody
    Aug 29, 2013 at 3:09
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    @banned I added "Ask them to provide security trainings so that you'll know what to do if this kind of thing ever happens again." since this is something they should have done.
    – Nobody
    Aug 29, 2013 at 4:08
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    @fedja The TA is the lead of the classroom by default. I think someone did call the authority - how did the assistant dean show up in the classroom?
    – Nobody
    Aug 29, 2013 at 4:48
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    @fedja "Knocking down the offender in uncertainty is actually a good way" This is extremely dangerous and I council you against promoting excessive violence. Someone standing in front of you should not prompt your violent reaction - better to let the authorities step in (otherwise you are inviting assault charges).
    – earthling
    Aug 29, 2013 at 5:44
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Short: Contact a local union representative, and ask them for information and advice.

The advice given by others (speak the truth, contact your department head and ask for his help, etc.) is good, and if cool heads prevail, you shouldn't be in too much trouble, though the experience must have left you in bad shape. Also, on that note, do not hesitate to contact the school's counsellor/shrink if you need someone to talk to in confidence. Sometimes, some of the things we cannot say in official channels (“I somehow feel responsible for the guy getting beaten, after all, I set students onto him”, that sort of stuff) need to be spoken.

However, even if things are probably going to be fine, you also need to prepare yourself in case things go wrong. So, just in case serious or threatening administrative procedures are started, get informed on what your rights are, and get advice on what to say exactly. (Yes, you will speak the truth, but there are many ways to phrase it.) That's your union's job, and they can even help you further if things turn for the worse.


If you don't have a union, you could also get good advice from a lawyer… you may have access to a legal clinic or public-funded law consultations near you

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    Most graduate students in the US (where the OP seems to be from) are not part of unions.
    – user4512
    Aug 29, 2013 at 15:18
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    @ChrisWhite not sure about where the OP is from… In many cases, you don't have to be in a union beforehand for them to actually represent you, as long as they are present at your workplace. WP says that there are “as of 2007 there are 28 graduate student employee local unions in the United States”, which is more than zero :)
    – F'x
    Aug 29, 2013 at 15:22
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    +1 for talking to a counsellor. Many people think of counselling as just for people with chronic mental health issues, but that’s not accurate at all. If you sprain your ankle, you’d go to the doctor to help get it fixed; similarly, when you’ve had a seriously stressful and shocking experience like this, a few sessions with a counsellor can make a world of difference dealing with it. And many schools have counselling services that are free for graduate students.
    – PLL
    Aug 29, 2013 at 16:03
  • This is excellent advice. I think one thing to keep in mind is that you did "what any reasonable person would do" in the same circumstances.
    – jwir3
    Apr 16, 2019 at 18:59
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You clearly found yourself in a very uncomfortable and unpredictable situation (I'm assuming the school never prepared you for this kind of situation). The fact that you are young and relatively inexperienced should help you.

You should definitely see the head of your department and ask for his/her help. The bottom line is that you were unsure of what to do, you felt threatened, you did something which seemed reasonable at the time (asked for help). Yes, the other student seems to have gone a bit too far but for his situation there are mitigating circumstances (his teacher felt he was in trouble and asked him to help).

Basically, there are mitigating circumstances all around. Even you shooing (really?) someone whom you should not have happened only because everyone was off balance.

Yes, it is not good but for everyone involved, any reasonable third party can clearly see that there are mitigating circumstances all around.

So, go to the department chair and ask him/her what to do. Don't hide anything.

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    Following the answer from @scaaahu I would add to my answer that you MUST keep your dialog completely professional. Drop any profanity as it will not help your case in any way.
    – earthling
    Aug 29, 2013 at 3:09
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    excellent advice here, also something else to consider - the 2 students who took him down could be seen as backing you up, defending you and the class.
    – user7130
    Aug 29, 2013 at 7:26
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While not as serious as an infraction as what you are going through, I was just recently in a bit of trouble with my school (public consumption). I was able to get past it by doing the following things:

  1. Spoke Nothing but the truth
  2. Had people from my department advocate that beyond this infraction, I was an asset to the department and the school.

What you also need to do is:

  • Explain that you were clearly in an unsafe environment, and that beyond the stranger's threat, you put your students in danger by asking for help. While you aren't much older than the students, I assume, You are responsible for them as a Teaching Assistant.
  • Explain to them that, if you are fortunate enough to keep your job and stay in the program what you would do in similar situation, which is, call the police. Get on your phone and call Public Safety or the Police, that is their job.
  • This may have legal ramifications, depending on the particulars.
  • Find as many people as possible with stature to advocate for you. Does your advisor love you as a student? Time to find out.

Thats all I can really think of. I really wish you good luck, as you know this is super messy.

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Everyone else is giving good answers about your specific question. I want to add one thing: you need to think about how to handle such situations going forward. Set up time with campus security to learn what their policies are. You might try taking a good self defense class - not sport martial arts, and not military-go-kill-someone martial arts, but something designed for citizens who truly want to protect themselves. If you do so, you'd be well advised to learn about the different types of violence, so you can recognize whether someone is likely to hurt you vs someone who just wants your money. Rory Miller is a great starting place.

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    I'm going to look up the number for our campus' security police, and put it into my cell phone. Hopefully, I'll never have to use it, but, if this discussion has taught me anything, it's that having campus police on my telephone is a good idea. After all, those guys should do more than write parking tickets.
    – J.R.
    Aug 29, 2013 at 21:32

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