As I was writing and revising my personal statements, I overheared what was a rather nasty breakup outside of the window shortly after midnight.

I know that personal relationships are not my business in general, and in this case, my involvement was a brief but stern question to the young couple if everything was okay and if they wanted to discuss their issues inside the lobby of the building I worked at instead of the freezing cold outside. I also offered hot coffee or tea. The ulterior intention was to insure that there was no violence in what was an emotionally charged argument.

The result was that he flipped me off and she declined. I replied if she was sure; she said yes and they went off into the night.

With this said, my questions are:

  • Were my actions appropriate as a staff member of the university (who was basically about the same age as the presumed undergraduate couple ranging from 18–22 and myself at 23)?

  • Would my actions be appropriate as a graduate student and TA in general regardless of circumstance (affiliation in my group, unknown student in general)?

  • Would the same actions be appropriate for a professor?

  • 3
    How about "Call security and stay out of it" ? One they won't have the opportunity to be rude to you and two, if it does get heated / violent security are most probably trained to deal with the situation.
    – Solar Mike
    Dec 2, 2017 at 9:32

1 Answer 1


In general I would say it isn't your responsibility as a professor/TA any more than it would be as a normal member of the public witnessing a potentially violent altercation.

If you supervise one of the students you could ask them, at another time, whether everything is okay, giving them them the opportunity to talk if they wish. Avoid getting too involved, you're there to assist the students with their studies and risking effecting the relationship - if your interference has embarrassed or upset the student they would be less likely to approach you for help with their studies (your primary purpose).

  • 2
    Couldn't it be argued that a person's emotional state would directly affect their studies? If so, what role would a TA or professor have in that capacity? Would we act as listeners, but ultimately not able (nor qualified) to give advice, or refer them to counseling?
    – Bluebird
    Dec 2, 2017 at 10:56
  • 3
    @FrankFYC Of course their emotional state effects their studies, this doesn't mean you can fix it though. If your role involves supervising or pastoral care then you can ask if they're okay then they have the opportunity to talk. You can give advice if you like but only if they ask for it. Primarily your purpose (as far as students are concerned) is to help them with the content they are studying. At the end of the day you getting involved could make things worse for them and make them less likely to approach you about course content. Dec 2, 2017 at 11:07
  • 1
    Getting involved could make things worse, but it could also make things better. Your action will have consequences, for sure, but so will not acting. In this example it probably made things better: most likely the couple will respect your comments and like the way you dealt with the situation. Well done.
    – Louic
    Dec 2, 2017 at 11:16

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