Classmate with a hygiene problem

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In summary, the person is uncomfortable because of the strong body odor of their classmate and is looking for advice on how to politely approach the issue. They are 22 years old and taking a 300 and 400 level physics course.
  • #1
jack476
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This has been causing a bit of a problem for me lately. One of my classmates absolutely reeks of body odor, it's very clear that he does not shower, and he usually will wear the same clothes for several days on end without changing. He seems to be unaware of it. If he sits near me then I want desperately to get up and move but I don't want to interrupt the class or call attention to it. But the odor is so strong that it's noticeable from the instant he walks into the classroom.

Obviously there's the very tangible problem that it's gross. And I know this may sound a bit snobbish, but it's a 400-level physics course and I find the lack of respect he's showing to the class to be a little irritating.

The issue isn't that he doesn't own enough clothing. He has many outfits: the problem is that he'll wear the same one for so long. And I know for a fact (at least by looking at his user stats on Steam) that he isn't so busy that he can't find time for a shower.

I just need some advice on how to approach the issue delicately.
 
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  • #2
There are two ways to look at this:

1) He improves/We try to improve him; and
2) We adjust.

Which one do you want to do?

Once we decide on that, I can think up ways. I ask this because lots of things popped up in my head at once.

PS: How old are you? What level of classes are these?
 
  • #3
CrazyNinja said:
There are two ways to look at this:

1) He improves/We try to improve him; and
2) We adjust.

Which one do you want to do?

Well obviously I'd rather pick the first option, since I don't really think I want to spend the next year smelling that when I try to go to class. I'm also worried there might be maybe a mental health or social skills problem going on. I don't know him extremely well but I do kind of feeling like there's something "off" about him (aside from the stank, I mean) that makes me feel like he needs help.

Once we decide on that, I can think up ways. I ask this because lots of things popped up in my head at once.

PS: How old are you? What level of classes are these?
I'm 22, he seems to be close to my age, maybe a little a younger. These are all 300 and 400 level (that is, junior and senior) courses
 
  • #4
Have you tried wearing one of these to class?

m04-gas-mask-style-mask-with-fan-bk-1.jpg

 
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  • #5
It's not snobbish, it is a real isdue: tell your professor and have him/er deal with it. The classroom environment is their responsibility.
 
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  • #6
russ_watters said:
It's not snobbish, it is a real isdue: tell your professor and have him/er deal with it. The classroom environment is their responsibility.

I think this would be extremely humiliating for that classmate. University is not kindergarten or primary school, students should not talk about personal care issues with their professors behind one's back. I mean...how would you feel if your professor called you because other student said you stink?
If you want to talk with him about that maybe try gently making some small remark, but not too personal or offensive. I don't know if you normally talk to him and what your relationship is.
The other option is to sit elsewhere, away from him.

Another thought: if you normally talk to each other, maybe you can say. "Hey do you know what I read on the internet yesterday? Some people don't use shampoo for weeks or months. It's called No Poo method. It's some kind of new fashion. That's disgusting! I need to wash my hair ( insert your frequency) and I need to take a shower every day, otherwise I wouldn't feel comfortable. I like smelling and being fresh. What about you? What do you think of this new fashion?" Of course, this is only natural if you do talk to each other. It would be weird to just come to him out of the blue and start talking about this.
 
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  • #7
Sophia said:
I think this would be extremely humiliating for that classmate.
Good: it should be. It is disgusting/unacceptable.

The OP can approach the person if s/he wants to (it would be nice), but doesn't have that responsibility.
University is not kindergarten or primary school, students should not talk about personal care issues with their professors behind one's back.
The standard is HIGHER here, not lower.

I can't understand why you don't seem to think this person's behavior is a problem. In the real world, this could get him fired.
 
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  • #8
russ_watters said:
Good: it should be. It is disgusting/unacceptable.

.
I see no point in humiliating people more than necessary. I don't know maybe it's because I am a woman. It would be much better to tell him directly that he stinks than to ask a professor to do that. And I really don't know if it's the teacher's responsibility to solve issues like this.
 
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  • #9
jack476 said:
This has been causing a bit of a problem for me lately. One of my classmates absolutely reeks of body odor,

There are other things to consider, health issue such as allergies to chemical deodorant. Skin conditions that will not allow the application of cologne. Poor living conditions, economical hardships. Lots of things that could be contributory to his condition. It should be addressed in a sensitive manner,, assessed and discussed. If nothing can be done then alternative measures should be considered. Perhaps online classes.
 
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  • #10
jack476 said:
This has been causing a bit of a problem for me lately. One of my classmates absolutely reeks of body odor, it's very clear that he does not shower, ...
You can reference this thread. The OP had the same complaint.
 
  • #11
You could always try the, what do they call it now-a-days, passive-aggressive(?) approach.

One year, when I was around 17, I received the following for Christmas. (There may have been more.)
OmStinko.circa.1976.jpg

circa 1976 (and yes, the British Sterling bottle had my real name engraved upon it.)​

In my whole life, no one had ever bought me such things.
I'm guessing I got the hint, as I never got another bottle, for the rest of my life.

ps. I'm guessing I liked the British Sterling the best, as it is the only empty bottle.
 
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  • #12
Sophia said:
I see no point in humiliating people more than necessary. I don't know maybe it's because I am a woman.
That's...disappointing. Problems need to be fixed, not glossed-over/ignored (or worse, having the victim accept being a victim as ok!) because fixing them might hurt the person's feelings. What about the feelings -- and more importantly, the learning environment -- of the classmates who are being harmed?
It would be much better to tell him directly that he stinks than to ask a professor to do that. And I really don't know if it's the teacher's responsibility to solve issues like this.
If the person is capable of it, it might be better to deal with it himself, but it really isn't his responsibility. I wouldn't want to encourage it and them have him do nothing and accept the negative consequences.

I did some googling and it looks many colleges, such as the one I went to, don't have specific hygiene policies. But they do have "you're an adult, act like it" policies:
DREXEL UNIVERSITY DOES NOT HAVE, AND WILL NOT ASSUME, PARENTAL RIGHTS OR DUTIES FOR ITS STUDENTS
http://drexel.edu/studentlife/community_standards/studentHandbook/RoleResponsibilities/

There's an entire section dedicated to explaining just what that means. The basic problem becomes evident: when you are a kid, your parents make you do everything and some kids never learn to make decisions for themselves. So when they go to college, they stop doing many of the things their parents made them do. Hygiene is one of the famous things that college kids are bad at. It's pretty much a cliche. But that doesn't make it ok. Personal hygiene is a basic function of being a human being.

Most schools do have general rules against classroom disruption - and poor hygiene would qualify even if it isn't explicitly stated. But here's an example where it is:
Students' overall personal appearance must reflect cleanliness and good grooming. If a student's dress or hygiene interferes with the learning process, the student's instructor will counsel the student. Repeat offenses will result in referral to the Conduct Officer.
https://www.waketech.edu/student-services/catalog/campus-policies-and-procedures

Is it notable that that's a community college, where you might expect a lower quality of students, who need to be told these things?
 
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  • #13
gjonesy said:
If nothing can be done then alternative measures should be considered. Perhaps online classes.
You are referring to the person who has the odor issue, right?
 
  • #14
russ_watters said:
You are referring to the person who has the odor issue, right?

Yes,...odor,.. that could be disruptive to the entire class and would cause a problem as a whole. So it wouldn't be fair to allow him to disrupt the other students. If there is a reasonable explanation for his condition other wise, teach tell the kid to take a bath please ..lol
 
  • #15
Silicon Waffle said:
You can reference this thread. The OP had the same complaint.

JaredJames nailed it, IMHO; "3) He just stinks (and maybe doesn't realize it)."

Believe it or not, the Stinkmeister may actually appreciate being told about the "situation".

I mean, really, he might finally get someone to agree to go out on a date with him. :partytime:
 
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  • #16
Is it possible that a person can be immune to their own body odor? I suppose genetically you could lack certain olfactory reseptors. Maybe he can't smell it?
 
  • #17
gjonesy said:
Is it possible that a person can be immune to their own body odor? I suppose genetically you could lack certain olfactory reseptors. Maybe he can't smell it?
When I retired, I went from bathing every morning and putting on fresh clothes, to bathing once every three weeks and not changing my even my underwear for the entire time.
Trust me. It's possible.

Of course, there's always that morning I wake up, and wonder what crawled under the bed and died. At which point I take a healthy bath. (Sometimes I add bleach to the water, as I'm quite certain there are many strange things living on me by that point.)
 
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  • #18
I think you have to say something about it if it's bothering you.

You don't have to humiliate him to do it, but I think the direct approach is probably better, as difficult as it may be. Some people don't get hints. And in some cases the student in questions may not even do anything about it. (There are some people who might just think they have a right to smell the way they do). You have options to escalate if it comes to that.

And if saying anything is too difficult for you, I think it's fair to talk to the professor about it. I agree with Russ that there is a certain obligation on the professor or university's behalf to maintain a suitable learning environment.
 
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  • #19
Does your university have a booklet similar to this? http://www.victoria.ac.nz/st_services/counselling/resources/just-doing-our-job.pdf

Does the student exhibit other strange behaviour that may warrant a talk by the lecturer? You mention he may have other issues going on, which could all be linked back to this odour.
 
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  • #20
jack476 said:
I just need some advice on how to approach the issue delicately.
Anonymous note. (Or if you're willing to take the heat if he gets back to you, a signed note.) I take it you've found out his name, so you should know how to get a note to him.

I think the best way to approach the subject is to consider how you would want to be approached if you were on the receiving end of such a note.
 
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  • #21
gjonesy said:
Is it possible that a person can be immune to their own body odor? I suppose genetically you could lack certain olfactory reseptors. Maybe he can't smell it?

Ever notice how other people's homes often have a distinct smell, but you can't really smell your own home's smell?

Regardless, on the one hand, I'm all for not embarrassing the guy, but on the other hand, it is an issue that should probably be addressed, not only for his fellow students' sake, but also because if it's as bad as the OP says, I find it hard to believe anyone would be willing to hire him after an interview. Sometimes a little toughness and embarrassment can be the thing people need to finally see the light.

On a less serious note, have you have tried discreetly spraying him with deodorant? Here's an idea: pull out a bottle of cologne for "yourself" while walking near him, trip, and "accidentally" spill it all over him.
 
  • #22
russ_watters said:
That's...disappointing. Problems need to be fixed, not glossed-over/ignored (or worse, having the victim accept being a victim as ok!) because fixing them might hurt the person's feelings. What about the feelings -- and more importantly, the learning environment -- of the classmates who are being harmed?

OK, it needs to be solved. But all I was saying that it isn't necessarily needed to deliberately humiliate him. From your post I sensed that your primary goal is his humiliation (when you said It SHOULD humiliate him, it's good to do so). This was my main concern. You probably did not mean that, but that was my understanding of your words. To your post, I said that if it is possible, we should first try solving the issue in sensitive manner. Now I say ok, if it doesn't work, than yes, he could be more offensive.
I didn't know that in the US issues like these are a responsibility of teachers. I've never seen it any my school rules nor have I ever heard of teacher discussing this with students. But if it really is in the rules, than yes, the lecturer can do something about it.
 
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  • #23
gjonesy said:
Is it possible that a person can be immune to their own body odor? I suppose genetically you could lack certain olfactory reseptors. Maybe he can't smell it?

yes, you get used to it like you get used to any other smell. This is especially true for smelly breath. Usually you can't smell your own breath, mainly if it smelly all the time.
 
  • #24
This worked once :

A particularly smelly student was also a bit of a loner . Someone had the bright idea of solving two problems at the same time and encouraged smelly student to come along to college grounds and join in a rugby training session . An hour of running around in the rain and getting covered in mud . Showers and the usual good natured fun in the changing rooms afterwards .

He made some friends and his personal hygiene problems faded away .
 
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  • #25
Sophia said:
OK, it needs to be solved. But all I was saying that it isn't necessarily needed to deliberately humiliate him. From your post I sensed that your primary goal is his humiliation (when you said It SHOULD humiliate him, it's good to do so). This was my main concern. You probably did not mean that, but that was my understanding of your words.
No, I didn't mean that humiliation should be the goal -- you brought up humiliation, not me. The one and only goal should be fixing the problem, which is what I explained how to do in my first post. If it can be done without humiliation, fine, but that shouldn't be much of a concern here (and, indeed, humiliation may be a necessary tool if the person is stubborn about it). And that's what I meant when I said it should be humiliating: the person needs to be made to understand that poor hygiene is a really bad thing and if that requires humiliation because they won't take a simple correction, so be it. To be specific about it, here are the steps:
1. Another student can approach him discretely and suggest improving hygiene (optional).
2. The student tells the teacher and the teacher approaches him discretely and orders improved hygiene.
3. If the above doesn't work, the teacher can kick him out of class the next time.

Step 3 would be public humiliation and if that's what it takes, so be it.

You seemed to object to fixing the problem because doing so could be humiliating. It is true that there's really no easy way around it - it is a potentially humiliating problem and any attempt to fix it could cause humiliation. But so be it.
I didn't know that in the US issues like these are a responsibility of teachers. I've never seen it any my school rules nor have I ever heard of teacher discussing this with students. But if it really is in the rules, than yes, the lecturer can do something about it.
I don't understand -- who else's responsibility could it possibly be? The teacher is the only person who has direct control/responsibility for the learning environment in the classroom.
 
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  • #26
place a cake of soap on his desk
either on its own or with a note ... " a present from your classmates, please wash with it"Dave
 
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  • #27
Sophia said:
I think this would be extremely humiliating for that classmate. University is not kindergarten or primary school, students should not talk about personal care issues with their professors behind one's back. I mean...how would you feel if your professor called you because other student said you stink?
If you want to talk with him about that maybe try gently making some small remark, but not too personal or offensive. I don't know if you normally talk to him and what your relationship is.

Well, part of the reason is that I'm worried is that there could be an underlying mental or emotional health problem. Like I said, I've seen his player stats on Steam, he's playing computer games some 4-6 hours daily, and gets close to 10 hours on the weekends, and he's consistently able to afford new games on close to a weekly basis (which tend to run $20-$60). He has enough money to regularly buy newly released games and afford a computer that can play them, and he's living somewhere with access to a stable high-quality internet connection, and has enough money that he doesn't need to spend all of that time at a job to afford his rent (assuming he's not living in the dorms, I don't really know). So clearly it's not a money issue. And these are upper-level courses so it's not as if this is his first semester at college and he's just still learning to adjust. If this is a warning sign of an impending breakdown or a result of depression or an autism spectrum thing, I really think that it's in his best interest for someone to step in and make sure everything's okay.

But I have to say, I'm water Russ Watters on this one. It would be "humiliating" because the behavior is plainly unacceptable. I don't want to embarrass anyone unnecessarily, and that's why I was asking for advice on how to approach the issue, but there's no getting around the fact that pointing this out to him might result in him being embarrassed. I'd be pretty embarrassed too, but if I smelled that bad I'd absolutely want someone to point it out to me.

The other option is to sit elsewhere, away from him.

But that just makes it someone else's problem. And it's a small classroom so believe me when I say that sitting somewhere else doesn't do a whole lot.

StevieTNZ said:
Does your university have a booklet similar to this? http://www.victoria.ac.nz/st_services/counselling/resources/just-doing-our-job.pdf

Does the student exhibit other strange behaviour that may warrant a talk by the lecturer? You mention he may have other issues going on, which could all be linked back to this odour.

I wouldn't say that there's anyone thing that I would call uniquely worrisome (again, besides the smell), but taken together they do make me worried. He seems distracted and disengaged in class, the sheer amount of time he seems to spend playing video games cannot be healthy, I've noticed that the scores he's received on assignments that he's been handed back are pretty low, and he's rarely active socially. It's very clear that there's something wrong, but I don't know whether it would be appropriate to involve our professor because no one thing seems like a severe enough warning sign.
 
  • #28
russ_watters said:
No, I didn't mean that humiliation should be the goal

I don't understand -- who else's responsibility could it possibly be? The teacher is the only person who has direct control/responsibility for the learning environment in the classroom.

Ok, now I think we understand each other and I agree with your suggestions.
Who is responsible? I don't know. These things were never discussed at my uni. There were issues only at primary and high school and were solved by teachers calling parents or social workers.
But at uni? No... I've never seen a rule about hygiene or teacher being responsible for the teaching environment. Maybe such rules exist somewhere in the depths of the byrocratic (spelling?) system.
 
  • #29
I would assume that this is not the Professor's responsibility unless it was disrupting their ability to lecture.

Also, I assume that while strong, others have just accepted it and ignore it. If its enough to break your concentration, and you don't have the strength of focus to just ignore it then I'd say its your responsibility correct your situation if you need. There is no entitlement to a "free from distraction" environment. Life is full of non-optimal learning and working conditions, and strong people just deal with it and still succeed. Even stronger people change the situation for their benefit, while not hurting the persons feelings. And the most successful (but I consider weak) people just blurt out what bothers them with complete disregard for fellow men, because getting their way is what's most important, and other people and their "precious feelings" do not concern them. I choose not to act like that.

Not a recommendation, but MY move would be the long-game. Ask them a question about the class. The next class, ask them another question like you don't understand something (thus creating an opening for contact), and then after class say something like "i'm going to go get a coffee before my next course/before i leave, did you want to go grab one?". Talk about class on the way, get the coffee, establish a quick casual friendship. Maybe drop something personal to them to force a trust establishment. Then the next day, right before class (before you've had a chance to have noticed their odor) you arrive and make an off-hand comment about how you went to the gym before class( actually go to the gym too, get some activity) but didn't have time for a shower, then smell your armpit and say something like "ugh, i reek. I hate not having time to shower and then smelling the rest of the day". Then turn to your book/getting stuff out/ etc. That should be enough for them to be sure you're not talking about them (as you just arrived). They won't think defensively about the problem; they'll think about positively; not really for cleanliness of themselves, but they'll want to emulate you in your desire to not be stinky to strengthen the bond. We humans tend to do this automatically, especially if we respect or admire someone even in the slightest. We take something that we don't care about ourselves (like our own BO, or maybe how we dress, etc) and when we meet someone we're interested in becoming friends/etc with we will emulate their interests and habits.

At the end of the week you have a new friend that will probably be BO free, at least around you. Sounds like he could really use a good friend too.
 
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  • #30
Barring allergic skin reactions to certain cleaning products, and genetic skin disease or mental illness that makes the student have an aversion to water and or soap. He could be a GREENER that rejects hygenic practice for certain beliefs. If he just doesn't like bathing then he needs to understand he's disrupting the learning environment. If it's skin or allergy related he needs help...anything else then the teacher should deal with it based on the reason. He deserves an educational opportunity... But so do his class mates
 
  • #31
jack476 said:
If this is a warning sign of an impending breakdown or a result of depression or an autism spectrum thing, I really think that it's in his best interest for someone to step in and make sure everything's okay.
.

An aversion to having showers and other issues with person hygiene can -in some cases- by a symptom of being on the autism spectrum. This includes some otherwise "mild" cases of Asperger's (for some of these people having a shower is very uncomfortable, and in some cases it might even hurt).

My mum used to work with young adults who were on the spectrum but could live independently, making sure they washed etc. was always a bit of a struggle with some (not all!) and was a real problem for the ones who worked or studied.
 
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  • #32
f95toli said:
An aversion to having showers and other issues with person hygiene can -in some cases- by a symptom of being on the autism spectrum. This includes some otherwise "mild" cases of Asperger's (for some of these people having a shower is very uncomfortable, and in some cases it might even hurt).

My mum used to work with young adults who were on the spectrum but could live independently, making sure they washed etc. was always a bit of a struggle with some (not all!) and was a real problem for the ones who worked or studied.
I valued your careful (and caring) way of expressing yourself.
 
  • #33
For his sake, your sake and the sake of others devise a situation where you can open up a one to one conversation with him in private. Tell him the problem but be nice about it. Try to find out his view of the situation. Try to find out if the problem is exacerbated by certain issues...does he have any existing medical conditions, is it difficult for him to get access to washing facilities, are his finances extremely limited and so on?
With a greater awareness of the situation you could work together to devise strategies to lessen the problem :
Do you have a students union? They should be able to help for example they may be able to find a way to use laundry facilities cheaply. Are there charity shops you could visit, perhaps together, so that he could increase his wardrobe at bargain prices. Go to organisations that can offer advice for example the citizens advice bureau. You could do all this stuff discretely.
 
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  • #34
russ_watters said:
I don't understand -- who else's responsibility could it possibly be? The teacher is the only person who has direct control/responsibility for the learning environment in the classroom.

When I was in the Air Force we were taught that the chain of command started with the individual. So before taking a problem to the sergeant, we would be expected to talk to the individual. That was in a rigid rank environment.

College isn't so rigid. Still the responsibility starts with the individual in question. It's not clear to me the instructor has any responsibility here. She might take some to solve a problem, but is it fair to force it on her?

In my college we had RA (resident assistants) to deal with these sorts of personal problems. Another option might be to approach a group of classmates for confirmation of the problem and possible group solutions (after failing to deal with it one on one). Most universities have a student health center with a mental health section if this problem is related.

Another option is to learn to live with it. There are lots of offensive people in the world. One can't fix them all. Perhaps switch seats? Bring an air freshener?

Live and let live.
 
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  • #35
Jeff Rosenbury said:
It's not clear to me the instructor has any responsibility here. She might take some to solve a problem, but is it fair to force it on her?
Yes! I'm honestly flabbergasted by the responses I'm seeing here (yours and in particular Sophia's). This is so basic that it should be self-evident: Yes, a teacher is in charge of their classroom! Yes, maintaining a productive learning environment is a fundamental responsibility of a teacher.

Let me try a gentler scenario to try to illustrate the point:

You're in a classroom. The sun is shining through the windows at your face. All of the seats are filled. Do you:
1. Put on sunglasses and deal with the distraction and sub-optimal learning environment?
2. Close the shades on the window?
3. Ask the professor if you may close the shades on the window?

Maintaining a productive learning environment is one of the basic functions of being a teacher at any level. Dealing with distractions of students - whether they come from students themselves or from other aspects of the environment is part of that function.

Here's a good link that lists, step by step, the methods by which a professor should deal with classroom disruptions:
Part A.3 Addressing Classroom Disruptions

Clear Standards of Behavior

Faculty members should set clear standards of behavior at the start of a course to deter an inappropriate behavior.

●Instructors may wish to describe, in an introductory lecture, expected standards for class conduct.

●Instructors might consider stating their expectations for classroom behavior in their syllabi and defining inappropriate behaviors for students.

Example: “All student activities in the University, including this course, are governed by the University’s “Policy on Classroom Responsibilities of Faculty and Students,” as outlined in the

Student Handbook. Students who engage in behavior that disrupts the learning

environment may be asked to leave the class.”

●Instructors may ask students to sign a statement stating they understand the classroom conduct policy.

Dealing with the Disruptive Behavior

In the circumstance that a student engages in disruptive behavior, the following responses should be considered. In all cases of classroom misconduct (traditional classroom setting, online, in lab sessions, study abroad, or wherever else student learning takes place) instructors must keep records of inappropriate student behavior and their response to it, as well as keeping the names and contact information of any witnesses to the behavior.

●If an instructor believes that inappropriate behavior is occurring they should consider a general word of caution to the entire class rather than warning a particular student.

●If the behavior is irritating but not disruptive, the instructor may try speaking with the student(s) involved outside of class.

■Should the faculty member suspect the student is in emotional distress or that substance abuse might be a factor in the student's behavior, the faculty member should refer the student to Student Counseling Services (http://www.usm.edu/counseling/) and the Dean of Students. If warranted, a faculty member may call and make an appointment for the student at Student Counseling Services or accompany the student to the counseling center.

■Should discussion indicate that the disruptive behavior may be related to a physical or mental disability, a faculty member should remind the student of his/her right to request a reasonable accommodation of a documented disability and also inform the student that services and resources are available in the Office of Disability Accommodations (http://www.usm.edu/oda/).

●There may be circumstances when it is necessary to speak to a student during class about her/his behavior. This should be done in a firm, respectful, and non-threatening manner.

●A faculty member may issue a written warning to a student, via email or letter. The correspondence should be retained by the faculty member and a copy sent to the Department Chair...
https://www.usm.edu/student-handbook/policy-classroom-responsibilities-faculty-and-students
 
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