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Workplace Violence

Faculty, staff, and students are expected to treat each other with respect and consideration. Demeaning, intimidating, threatening, or violent behaviors that affect the ability to learn, work, or live have no place in an academic community. 

Potential warning signs

A potentially violent person may display various combinations of signs that become more pronounced over time.

  • Displays of unwarranted anger.
  • Indications of marked mood swings.
  • Fascination with weaponry and/or acts of violence.
  • Expression of a plan to hurt self/others.
  • Unwarranted or extreme expressions of distrust or persecution.
  • Frequent interpersonal conflicts.
  • Strong external reactions to criticism.
  • Lack of concern for the safety of others.
  • Physical reactions - e.g. clenching of fists, red in face, pacing, etc.

If you feel threatened by someone

  • Don't blame yourself.
  • Remember that institutional violence is against University policy and may be against the law.
  • Review your rights.
  • Keep written and dated record of events.
  • Tell someone.
  • Get help. If there is an immediate threat, as soon as it is safe to do so, dial 911.
  • Take immediate action.
  • Remember that you have a right to bring forth concerns without fear of retaliation.

What to do in a violent situation

If you cannot exit a potentially dangerous situation, the following behaviors may be helpful to de-escalate a situation. Make personal safety the top priority. 

  • Position yourself so that the violent person cannot block your access to an exit.
  • Avoid physically touching an outraged person or trying to force him / her to leave.
  • Move away from objects, such as scissors, which could be used as a weapon.
  • Project calmness. Raising your own voice may increase the anxiety of the potentially violent person.
  • Be a good listener. Encourage the other person to talk, and listen patiently.
  • Maintain a relaxed yet attentive posture. Avoid challenging body language such as placing hands on your hips, moving toward the person, or staring directly at them. If seated, remain in your chair and do not turn your back to the individual.
  • Acknowledge the outraged person's feelings. Neither agree with distorted statements, nor attempt to argue.
  • Avoid defensive statements.


Contact University Police if the situation presents an immediate threat to life or property (call 911).

In situations that do not involve imminent danger or for advice on the appropriate course of action, a member of the community is to notify a supervisor, department head, or student affairs staff member. Alternatively, the observer may report the incident to the Office of the Provost, the Department of Human Resources, or the Office of the Vice President for Student Affairs.

Employees dealing with personal problems can contact SupportLinc, a counseling, evaluation and referral service that is confidential and free to Northwestern faculty and staff.

Review Northwestern’s Guidance on Civility and Violence.