Classmate with a hygiene problem

  • Thread starter jack476
  • Start date

davenn

Science Advisor
Gold Member
8,542
5,236
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
 
299
119
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.

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 any one 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.
 
87
568
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.
 

Hepth

Gold Member
437
39
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 whats 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.
 
261
178
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
 

f95toli

Science Advisor
Gold Member
2,898
400
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.
 

S.G. Janssens

Science Advisor
Education Advisor
815
592
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.
 
2,422
83
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.
 
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.
 

russ_watters

Mentor
18,385
4,636
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
 
Last edited:
87
568
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:

https://www.usm.edu/student-handbook/policy-classroom-responsibilities-faculty-and-students
To you question about closing shades.
At the primary school, I ask for permission. At the secondary school, I may or may not ask. Depends on the teacher. At the uni, I stand up and close the shades (if it is in a small classroom that doesn't have remotely controlled shades ). This happened many times at my uni without any problems. No one even thought it could be rude.
But as I said before, in case that bad hygiene is considered an inappropriate behaviour, and rules such as those you quoted exist, than yes, teacher can be asked for help.
Anyway, I still think it is a matter of normal relationships to consult problems individually in private before making it public.

Another example. If you classmate was doing something that annoyed you such as taking up your space on the shared desk or whispering as he writes, would you go straight to the teacher? Or would you first tell the classmate to stop? In my opinion, telling the teacher first without trying to solve it yourself is childish.
 
Last edited:
To you question about closing shades.
At the primary school, I ask for permission. At the secondary school, I may or may not ask. Depends on the teacher. At the uni, I stand up and close the shades (if it is in a small classroom that doesn't have remotely controlled shades ). This happened many times at my uni without any problems. No one even thought it could be rude.
But as I said before, in case that bad hygiene is considered an inappropriate behaviour, and rules such as those you quoted exist, than yes, teacher can be asked for help.
Anyway, I still think it is a matter of normal relationships to consult problems individually in private before making it public.
I think the way to resolve this issue as quoted by Russ is probably better. Some students (even in top schools) are very rude (the guy in the OP may have a thick skin). The way you approach them to tell them how they are may also likely become problematic to you or them then, who knows ! They may argue that you are being judgmental or having a bad attitude toward people of different living conditions.
Joining a group or a society will at least ask one to obtain some very basic standard related to its lifestyle or its people's behaviors.
 
87
568
I think the way to resolve this issue as quoted by Russ is probably better. Some students (even in top schools) are very rude (the guy in the OP may have a thick skin). The way you approach them to tell them how they are may also likely become problematic to you or them then, who knows ! They may argue that you are being judgmental or having a bad attitude toward people of different living conditions.
Joining a group or a society will at least ask one to obtain some very basic standard related to its lifestyle or its people's behaviors.
Sure, it could be very problematic if they don't talk to each other normally. If you approach a stranger and tell him you stink so much it makes me sick! Than yes, there's a high chance of problems. That's I was asking to first try to establish some form of relationship and small talk. If after this he discovers that the classmate is weird or aggressive, than it is better to tell the teacher.
Anyway, it all depends on the situation, how well does the class collective get on, what type of teacher they have, personality of OP and personality of that classmate.
 
...
Anyway, it all depends on the situation, how well does the class collective get on, what type of teacher they have, personality of OP and personality of that classmate.
I agree to this. The OP may have acted as a _Mr.Know-All_, a garbage snob.
The accused poor guy may not really be that stinky. The OP may have some sort allergies towards his perfume.
The truth is we don't hear any claims or accusations from other students.
etc.
(Texts are made in bold by me)
 
S

steve johnson

Just go and tell him straight away about personal cleanliness.
 
This seems to me to be a question about when one defers to authority. Perhaps Sofia agrees with me that one should try to avoid a rule based solution as long as possible. IMO, proof by authority is a dangerous habit for a scientist.

"The authority of those who teach is often an obstacle to those who want to learn." -- Cicero

On my comment about how it might be unfair to the instructor, from Russ's handbook quote: "If the behavior is irritating but not disruptive, the instructor may try speaking with the student(s) involved outside of class."

To me this stink seems more irritating than disruptive. So talking to the instructor in a desire to have her talk to the student just seems to add a layer to a delicate communication problem. The only advantage I see is to use the instructor's implied authority. Yet according to the handbook, that authority extends to talking to the student herself. (Of course most reasonable people would defer to the instructor, but most reasonable people would also defer to a fellow student on an issue like this.) It just seems redundant to add the burden of the problem to the instructor. (As others have pointed out, it may need to be done if other solutions fail. It depends on circumstance.)

A little politeness and compassion can go a long way.
 

S.G. Janssens

Science Advisor
Education Advisor
815
592
It is a pity that smoking is prohibited in most classrooms in the West. I know of some excellent pipe tobaccos that could go a long way towards solving this delicate problem. (Even the most fanatic anti-smokers usually admit that they smell delicious, and they also keep insects away in Summer.)
 
I think smoking is fine to me. I like to smoke a cigarette more than to eat hamburgers. So during winter I could feel full all night without having eaten anything, cigarette smoke seemed to have layered up in my stomach.
I hang around with others greatly older than me in a local bar at night and I actually loved them a lot. Some smoked too, I hoped.
Schools in my area never forced students to not bring smelly foods into classes, so many of us had lunch right at our tables.
I have not met any colleagues next to me that have a bad body odor except some with bad breath.
 

256bits

Gold Member
2,707
728
This certainly wasn't a problem years ago before hot running water in homes. Everyone stunk so it all blended in. Perfumes, if you could afford that luxury, covered up the stench for special occasions. A bath, whether you needed it or not, twice a year. Just as long as when you peel off your underwear some skin stuck to it didn't come off as well.

Anyways,
Back at that age, but not now, I might have talked to the guy and said something like " Did you step in dog poop, or fall in a s... pile, cuz you need to clean that off."
But then that is not really my advice since I do not know anything about this particular person in question.

What hasn't been mentioned is that there is a possibility that the guy suspects that there could be a chance that there is a fragrance emanating from him, but since no person has hinted at such, then he feels it is not so bad after all, and will continue to do so, like wearing your gym T-shirt from the bottom of the pile since it is the best of the bunch and hopefully no one will notice.

Do other class mates have the same problem of a fragrance emanating from the individual?
 
261
178
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
It certainly could be a sign, and it could also be a documented medical condition (sever atopic dermatitis) people with these conditions can bathe even more than the average person but can not use any scented products. Often their skin dries and peels off at an accelerated rate and they can only wash their clothing in certain types of detergent. Then a lot of time for convenience they end up wearing the same clothes over and over and skin accumulates in the fabric creating a funky smell. I know this because my son has this condition. BUT it has to be maintained. Hygiene is very important and helps but because of his condition unscented deodorant powder for sensitive skin is pretty much his only option to control body odor. Can it be done,....YES...... is it easy. NOT IN THE LEAST!
 

russ_watters

Mentor
18,385
4,636
This seems to me to be a question about when one defers to authority.
No, the issue is that you and Sophia don't seem to recognize that the teacher *is* an authority.
 
87
568
No, the issue is that you and Sophia don't seem to recognize that the teacher *is* an authority.
I DO recognise he's an authority. :-)
The question is whether the authority SHOULD be used as a first option.
Anyway, this is getting circular.
 

russ_watters

Mentor
18,385
4,636
I DO recognise he's an authority. :-)
Ok: that's not what you and Jeff said previously (Jeff said it both ways, but in response to my side of the discussion). If you understand that now, we're good.
 
87
568
Ok: that's not what you and Jeff said previously (Jeff said it both ways, but in response to my side of the discussion). If you understand that now, we're good.
I said that if it is in the rules than he could make something about it but I recommend not to use formal authority unless necessary. It should be used as the last resort, as in any other social situation.
I'm glad we understand each other now.
 
11
48
Good: it should be. It is disgusting/unacceptable.
Depending on the cause that could be very cruel. That one's first impulse is to punish even before understanding is disgusting/unacceptable in a individual that has authority over others.
 

Physics Forums Values

We Value Quality
• Topics based on mainstream science
• Proper English grammar and spelling
We Value Civility
• Positive and compassionate attitudes
• Patience while debating
We Value Productivity
• Disciplined to remain on-topic
• Recognition of own weaknesses
• Solo and co-op problem solving

Hot Threads

Top