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Tip of the Week: Feeling Threatened vs. Being Threatened


“I have been threatened” is not an uncommon phrase for behavioral intervention and threat assessment teams. A phone call may come in (hopefully not Friday at 4:30p.m.), indicating a reporting party witnessed a threat. The reporting party may be emotional and demand action. Upon further clarification, it becomes clear that the reporting party had a disagreement with a student and the student indicated they plan to talk to the party’s supervisor. While being threatened and feeling threatened may create similar reactions such as anxiety, fear, and anger, it may be necessary for teams to delineate to respond appropriately.

Incident Report

When an incident occurs, it is important to gather appropriate information. To adequately assess a concern for safety and determine appropriate action, the team will need details of the incident:

  • What happened?
  • Who was involved?
  • Who shared the information?
  • Who has been contacted?
  • What action was taken?

It may be beneficial to schedule a follow up discussion with the reporting party to determine any context that led to the incident. In other words, if there was an ongoing issue between the parties escalating over time until now, a description of escalating behaviors may be important to consider as well. It may also be helpful to specifically ask reporting parties if they have witnessed any concerning behavior from the person of concern prior to this incident to determine if the concerning behavior is new or has been exhibited in the past.  

The incident report should be detailed, including a full description of the incident. Specifically, the team needs to know the words and actions used during the incident. Additionally, it is important to understand whether weapons were identified, used, or present. To find additional information, it may be beneficial to contact other parties involved or who witnessed the incident.

Who Should We Contact?

If additional information is needed to understand an incident, it may be beneficial to discuss the report and any missing details with the reporting party. Reviewing the incident report with the reporting party may encourage the reporting party to share additional details of the incident, context, and impact of the incident on a community. Outreach to witnesses and third parties may also provide additional information. This follow-up provides parties with a touchpoint in the process, increasing transparency.

“I have been threatened”

In an incident report, a party may indicate they were threatened by the person of concern. To determine the type of threat identified by the reporting party, it is important to ask for details of the threat. Specifically, was violence threatened? The incident report should specify the language used in order to rank appropriately on NABITA’s Risk Rubric.  

A team most often receives threats of harm to self or others to review and rank for appropriate action. However, a person may also feel their job may be threatened when a person of concern indicates they plan to call a higher authority. A threat of violence could include a concern for bodily harm, injury, or stalking. On the other hand, a threat of calling someone such as an attorney, supervisor, or president may also produce anxiety and discomfort.


When hearing a threat of harm or a threat to call, the emotional and physiological reactions may be the same or similar. Emotionally, a party may experience anxiety, anger, or fear. Physiologically, the party may experience pupil dilation, increased heart rate, and/or sweaty palms. Therefore, supporting a party with follow-up questions about emotions and feelings regarding the incident may also be helpful in determining appropriate responses.

Case Study Comparisons

Let’s consider a case study comparison. If a student receives a failing grade in a class, and on their way out the door, they are overheard saying, “if my grade continues to fall, I’m going to the Dean’s Office.” On the other hand, if a student receives a failing grade in a class and while leaving the class, they are overheard saying, “if my grade continues to fall, I’m going to figure out where my professor lives so I can make them pay.” How would each rank on the “D” scale and “E” scale?

Follow Up with Reporting Party

After reviewing a report and ranking the level of concern, it is important to follow-up with the reporting party to share the outcome of the assessment and plan of action. Doing so provides transparency in the process and increases confidence in the team. The plan should include details about actions needed for all involved parties to increase likelihood for success and how to report if something else happens. When parties are informed about the outcome of a report, they may be more likely to report additional concerns and refer others to the team in the future.

Laura E. Ulmer, Ph.D.
Director, Office of Student Conduct & Academic Integrity
Old Dominion University