Part 1: Rapid Response Recommendations

The following recommendations are divided into immediate actions for individuals, academic unit heads (e.g., department heads, school directors, center directors) and other administrators (associate deans, deans, communications directors, executive offices). Recommended actions will likely happen simultaneously and collaboratively. Because attacks can vary in kind and scope, these recommendations take the form of bulleted lists of actions compiled from resource guides created elsewhere. They are not establishing a single, proscribed procedure.

Recommended Actions:
  • Remember that you are not alone and you are not responsible for others’ actions. 
  • It is not in your interest to respond. Responding may prolong the attack.
  • Contact Public Safety [from on-campus: x86911; from off campus: (540) 568-6911] if you feel your physical safety is at risk; Call 911 if you are in imminent danger.
  • If you have safety concerns related to an individual at JMU but are not in imminent danger, contact the Threat Assessment Team.
  • Immediately alert your academic unit head or supervisor to make them aware of the situation.
  • Contact IT for any necessary tech support (for example, removing your email address from public sites or giving access to a trusted friend to sort your email or voicemail messages).
  • You do not need to respond to news media. If you do,consult first with the JMU Spokesperson ( or 540-568-7487) on any talking points or requests for statements.
  • Be mindful that your email communications are subject to FOIA and subpoenas.
  • If you have a social media presence, lock your accounts and stop or limit your engagement with the platform (mute, block, restrict access of attackers/abusers; turn off location services and tracking).
  • Document all instances of targeting and online abuse (save emails, screenshot social media posts in case they get deleted, screenshot phone messages, etc.). Preserving evidence may help in identifying harassers and pressing charges. The code of Virginia §18.2-60 prohibiting threats may apply.
  • Consider asking a small group of trustworthy, supportive friends or colleagues to help with monitoring and documenting your and the abusers’ accounts to allow you to disengage.
  • Meet with your unit head or supervisor to communicate your needs and understand what resources are available to you. Bring a trusted friend or colleague for assistance.
  • Be aware and acknowledge that attacks may affect your workplace, colleagues, classes or students. Work with your academic unit head to identify and implement any long-term support needs.
  • If the attack involves a person or persons at JMU, you can file complaints according to JMU policies.
  • Consider using the Employee Assistance Program for counseling needs. Those impacted by these events often experience anxiety or stress long after an attack has technically concluded.
AUHs, supervisors, directors, etc.
  • Ensure the impacted individual is physically safe and has a safety plan in place. For example, it may be necessary to remove the person’s contact info from the unit website or physically move their classes or workspaces temporarily.
  • Meet formally with the impacted individual within 18 hours after the initial report of the incident(s) to offer additional support and assess the severity of the attack. Note details of the event, including its nature, where and how it is occurring, and identify the individual’s greatest concern. Encourage them to bring someone along for assistance. It is important not to diminish or invalidate the seriousness of the incident as experienced by the faculty/staff member.
  • Contact public safety as appropriate to assure safety of the targeted individual and other persons in the department.
  • If you have safety concerns related to an individual at JMU but are not in imminent danger, contact the Threat Assessment Team.
  • Ensure that administrative assistants are aware of the situation and provide them with an initial, short, scripted statement for use when answering questions, phone calls, emails, and social media. Update this statement as needed to ensure that is consistent with other messaging (see below).
  • Communicate with others at JMU on a need-to-know basis only. Do inform and update the dean or upper leadership regarding the situation; intentional online attacks often spread out quickly to include other offices.If the incident grows in scope and appears likely to engage national media, you or the dean should alert the university spokesperson in the event an institutional response is needed.
  • Review the Talking Points (below)and prepare a short, initial response for use internally and externally, as warranted, when emails, phone calls, or social media comments arrive. Multiple scholarly studies have demonstrated the effectiveness and importance of bystander interventions in mitigating cyberbullying and online intimidation.[1] Affirming that the impacted individual is a qualified, credentialed professional and a member of the university community is an intervention that helps to mitigate the harm.
  • Consult with the Associate Provost for Strategic Initiatives and Global Affairs for assistance in developing a response to an attack concerning racial, sexual, or other forms of discrimination.
  • Consult with the university spokesperson in advance of formal, public statements on behalf of the university. The spokesperson can also help you create a short, scripted statement that can be used by your office.
  • Be mindful that email communications are subject to FOIA requests (Freedom of Information Act) and may be subject to subpoena.
  • Consider who in the office will send responses by email versus managing social media posts or phone messages. Any messaging from or within a unit should be consistent.
  • Consider messaging the rest of the unit, as appropriate. If they use social media, people affiliated with the unit may already be aware that an incident is happening and correcting misinformation may be necessary. Colleagues in the unit may want to assist or support the targeted individual, however, you should consult with the individual to determine what may be shared. The targeted individual may prefer privacy. Again, any messaging from or within a unit should be consistent.
  • After the event ends, understand that the individual will still be adversely affected by the attack. Their course enrollments, research productivity and career goals may be negatively affected by the attack. Consider what adjustments may be needed.


[1] See, for example, Nicholas Brody, “Bystander Intervention in Cyberbullying and Online Harassment: The Role of Expectancy Violations,” International Journal of Communication 15 (2021): 647–667.

Dean’s Office level or above; University Communications; Provost’s Office
  • Keep in contact with the academic unit head to ascertain whether additional actions are needed. Offer direct support to the impacted individual, if appropriate.
  • Communicate with others on a need-to-know basis only. Inform upper leadership regarding the situation and alert the university spokesperson or the Office of University Counsel in the event an institutional response is needed.
  • Consult with the Vice Provost for Strategic Initiatives and Global Affairs for assistance in developing a response to an attack concerning racial, sexual, or other forms of discrimination.
  • Referring to Talking Points, below, prepare formal statements for media, in consultation with the university spokesperson.
  • Consider informing other offices or divisions that might receive calls or emails, such as Development, Alumni Relations and Admissions, so they can respond with appropriate answers or statements.
Part 2: Developing Talking Points

Informal and formal messaging from university leaders at any level should affirm academic freedom and freedom of speech while acknowledging the impacted individual’s status as a member of the campus community. Having and using a prepared response is an important bystander intervention.

Recommended Actions:
  • Begin by identifying academic experts on campus who have expertise in the topic that sparked the attack (if any) and can provide appropriate academic or disciplinary language.
  • Look to professional standards from the field to contextualize the work in the broader discipline. National organizations may offer helpful language.
    • Examples: “In the academic discipline of X, scholars routinely address Y in their classes and research.” Or “In the department of X, staff routinely address Y in their work.” OR “In the academic discipline of X, scholarship has/has not demonstrated Y. Dr. Doe is a fully qualified instructor of X with a strong record of scholarship.”
  • Affirm the professional qualifications and expertise of faculty or staff who may be targeted.This is especially important when the impacted individual is a member of an historically excluded or marginalized population.

Example: “We recognize NAME is an [established scholar in DISCIPLINARY AREA] [experienced member of the department/office] and a member of our university community.”

  • Affirm academic freedom and/or intellectual inquiry as central to the university.
  • Affirm the value of open, lively and contrarian public debate while condemning the type of harassment and threatening behavior to which the targeted faculty or staff is being subjected.

The following sample statements are intended as resources. The first two are taken from the JMU faculty handbook concerning academic freedom. Be aware that not all speech that occurs on a college campus is covered by the concept of academic freedom. This language may not be applicable in all situations or to all individuals.

  • At James Madison University, we believe, “The primary functions of an academic community – learning, teaching, scholarship, and professional service – must be characterized by a fundamental commitment to academic freedom and maintained through reasoned discourse, intellectual honesty, mutual respect, and openness to constructive criticism and change. Faculty members, as central to this community, serve as scholars pursuing the search for knowledge and its free expression, as teachers instructing students, and as professionals and citizens contributing special knowledge and skills through professional service and community participation.”[1]

  • “The university is an institution of higher learning in a democratic society. It is fundamentally committed to the open-ended pursuit of knowledge and the unfettered activity of inquiry and debate. Just as the university is entitled to academic freedom in the pursuit of its educational mission, so each member of the faculty is entitled to academic freedom in the discharge of their professional duties. Academic freedom means that the political, religious, or philosophical beliefs of politicians, administrators, and members of the public cannot be imposed on faculty.[2]

  • [James Madison University/the Department of X] is committed to defending and upholding academic freedom, intellectual freedom, and the rights of its faculty, staff, and students. There has been a dramatic increase in recent years in personal, online intimidation that targets scholars, researchers and educators across the country, which challenges this commitment. Typically spawning from social media, message boards or other online forums, harassment can take a variety of forms. It can range from online posts that misrepresent our work to vague, threatening comments on third-party websites; to targeted, direct messages sent to faculty and staff by individuals “trolling” for a reaction or wanting to intimidate recipients. Targeted online harassment of faculty has emerged as a significant threat to academic freedom. JMU does not dispute First Amendment rights, but it adamantly condemns efforts to intimidate or silence faculty and staff members through targeted online harassment. This right to academic freedom safeguards one’s liberty to pursue, discuss, study, research, discover, question, critique, and teach relevant knowledge, ideas, and theory, in accordance with the standards of the academic profession and one’s discipline. Academic freedom establishes a faculty member’s right to remain true to their pedagogical philosophy and intellectual commitments. Academic and intellectual freedom preserve the intellectual integrity of our educational system and thus serve the public good. Exploring challenging and important questions is exactly what members in a world-class university should be doing. As such, a faculty or staff member who is acting in the course and scope of their employment at the university is protected by the tenets of academic and intellectual freedom if such action is performed in good faith and in a manner consistent with their responsibilities. A faculty or staff member who is speaking or writing on matters of public concern is not subject to university censorship or discipline. As such, we recognize NAME is an [established and admired scholar in DISCIPLINARY AREA] [experienced staff member of the department/office] and a member of our university community.


[1] JMU Faculty Handbook, III.A.1. Introduction

[2] JMU Faculty Handbook, III.A.2.a. Academic Freedom


This information is applicable to faculty and staff in the James Madison Univerity Division of Academic Affairs only.

The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice; instead, all information, content, and materials available on this site are for general informational purposes only. 

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