Recognize, Respond, Refer

Whenever possible, begin your engagement with a conversation with the student. If they are familiar to you (i.e., you’ve had previous interactions with them), consider whether their behavior or presentation feels unusual or markedly different from what is typical for them (which could be an indicator of stress or distress).

Remember that it’s important not to ignore your concerns because you feel unsure of what to do. Responding is always the best choice. Doing so might be as simple as demonstrating that you’re available to listen, which can have a significant impact upon a student who is experiencing difficulty. 

Also, there is no expectation (nor is it recommended) that faculty members, coaches, non-clinical staff, or student employers engage in “counseling” with the students that they are concerned about. The examples on this page of what to say are simply intended to provide ideas for engagement with the student and clarity for those seeking to help.

When engaging with any student that you have concerns about, utilizing the Recognize, Respond, and Refer approach can provide a path toward getting that student the help they might need.

Recognize (signs of distress):

Recognizing common signs of distress is a crucial first step. These four areas are quite typical, though students may show signs that are not listed here. 

Respond (to signs of distress):

Responding is always the best choice. When responding, be sure to both engage and listen with openness, honesty, and compassion. 


The appropriate referral depends on the student's presenting issues and/or expressed concerns. 

After Considering the Above Actions, What’s Next?

  • Reflect on your own boundaries, necessary self-care, and opportunities to access support for yourself. Utilize colleagues, supervisors, and department heads for consultation and collaboration. Consult HR for information on wellness programs and employee assistance (EAP) options that are available to support faculty/staff. 
  • Consider your status related to campus security requirements and if there are any Title IX or crime-related reports that you must file. 
  • You can report students of concern to the Student Care team by filling out an Online Care Report. Though respecting privacy is required under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), consulting about academic, safety, health, and wellness concerns is allowable under FERPA. 
  • CIRCLE BACK to the student after a referral to support resources to check in with them.
  • Understand that due to privacy regulations, it may not always be possible for other campus resources to provide you with detailed information after you’ve made a student referral.


Questions about the Purple Folder? Please contact Student Affairs at