Red Folder

Responding to students in distress


The Red Folder initiative is a guide to help faculty, staff and others who interact with students to recognize, respond effectively to, and refer a student as necessary.


These are the most common signs of distress. Students may present with signs that are not listed.


Sudden decline in quality of work and grades

Frequently missed classes and assignments

Disturbing content in writing or presentations

Classroom disruptions

Consistently seeking personal rather than professional advice

Multiple requests for extensions or special considerations (a change from prior functioning)

Doesn't respond to repeated requests for contact or meetings

Academic assignments dominated by themes of extreme hopelessness, helplessness, isolation, rage, despair, violence or self-harm

Self-disclosure of personal distress like family problems, financial difficulties, assault, discrimination or legal difficulties

Unusual or disproportionate emotional response to events

Excessive tearfulness, panic reactions

Verbal abuse like taunting, badgering or intimidation

Expression of concern about the student by peers

Marked changes in physical appearance like poor grooming or hygiene or sudden changes in weight

Strange or bizarre behavior indicating loss of contact with reality

Visibly intoxicated or smelling of alcohol or marijuana

Rapid speech or manic behavior

Depressed or lethargic mood or functioning 

Observable signs of injury like facial bruising or cuts

Verbal, written or implied references to suicide, homicide, assault or self-harm behavior

Unprovoked anger or hostility

Physical violence like shoving, grabbing, assaulting or use of a weapon

Stalking or harassing 

Communicating threats or disturbing comments in person or via email, text or phone call


Use these important tips to determine the most appropriate response for a distressed student.

 1. Stay safe
If there is an imminent danger to you, the student, or someone else, call 2911 from your campus phone or 262-595-2911 from your cell phone.

2. Take your time.
If this is not an imminently dangerous situation, take time to listen to the student's concerns and how you might be able to help.

3. Stay calm
Take a few deep breaths to calm yourself. Use a calm voice when talking and asking questions.

4. Use active listening
Make eye contact, give your full attention. Restate what the student says to make sure you understand what is causing the distress, and/or what they are asking for help with.

5. Ask direct questions
Don't be afraid to directly ask the student if they are having thoughts of harming themselves or others. By asking, you are not instilling the thought.

6. Refer
Connect the student with the appropriate campus resource(s) for additional support.


Is the student in immediate harm to self or others? 


The student’s conduct is clearly reckless, disorderly, dangerous or threatening and suggestive of immediate harm to self or others in the community.

What to do:
  • Is there an imminent danger to you, the student, or someone else? Call 2911 (from your campus phone) or 262-595-2911 (from your cell phone)

I'm Not Sure

Signs of distress are visible but the severity is unclear. The interaction has left you feeling uneasy or concerned about the student and you’re not sure how to proceed.

What to do:

  • Consult with a counselor from Student Health and Counseling Center on how best to support the student.  Call 262-595-2366, M-F, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.  After hours, contact University Police.


I’m not concerned for the student’s immediate safety but they are having significant academic and/or personal issues and could use support.

What to do:
  • See our list of campus resources below to connect the student with support on campus.




University Police

(262) 595-2455 (non-emergency)
Tallent Hall 188
On-Campus Emergencies: (262) 595-2911


Student Health and Counseling Center
East of Tallent Hall


YOU at College

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