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.
  • #36
russ_watters said:
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.
 
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  • #37
Sophia said:
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.
 
  • #38
Silicon Waffle said:
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.
 
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  • #39
Sophia said:
...
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)
 
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  • #40
Just go and tell him straight away about personal cleanliness.
 
  • #41
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.
 
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  • #42
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.)
 
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  • #43
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.
 
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  • #44
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, because 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?
 
  • #45
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

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!
 
  • #46
Jeff Rosenbury said:
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.
 
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  • #47
russ_watters said:
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.
 
  • #48
Sophia said:
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.
 
  • #49
russ_watters said:
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.
 
  • #50
russ_watters said:
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.
 
  • #51
einswine said:
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.
[Sigh] Please read the rest of the thread. My goal would not be to punish, but to correct. The difference between me and most of the others here is who's concerns take priority. Others seem to be primarily concerned with the concerns of the perpetrator, whereas my concern is for the victims.

Also, while I am aware that there can be medical reasons for an odor, the description in the OP (wearing the same clothes over and over without washing them) precludes them from being a factor here and also implies that shaming may be necessary.

Indeed, in another way, you guys are looking at the "shaming" issue backwards: the students' only real power here is shame. The teacher is the only one who is guaranteed capable of dealing with the situation without shaming him in front of his peers.
 
  • #52
Krylov said:
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'm a non-smoker, but I love the smell of a good pipe. Of course there are bad pipes too, so the solution just sort of kicks the can down the road a bit.
 
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  • #53
russ_watters said:
No, the issue is that you and Sophia don't seem to recognize that the teacher *is* an authority.
I don't equate authority and the Latin concept of imperium.

IMO, in American society we have attempted to limit authority and increase liberty. Authority comes with an office (such as the instructor), but it is limited in extent and powers. Thus "we the people" grant some broad authoritative power to the government. The government grants more restrictive forms to more local authorities, and so on. The authority of an Instructor will thus seem to vary by jurisdiction.

I did not question an instructor's authority to prevent disruptive behavior. I questioned the wisdom of a student to insist the instructor use that authority when dealing with irritating behavior. (According to the document you cited, the instructor is responsible for having a talk outside of class. That is not a lot of authority. I'm sure instructors have more authority in other jurisdictions. As I said, it varies by circumstance.)

If you think the instructor should unilaterally claim extra authority, I do disagree. We are a free country and our laws are are laws.

See: Armstrong v. D.C. Public Library for a similar court case to the issues we are discussing. In it a homeless man semi-successfully sues for being denied entry to the library due to his objectionable appearance.

But not everything needs to be a federal case. I try politeness before trying authority.
 
  • #54
russ_watters said:
[Sigh] Please read the rest of the thread.

I read the entire thread before posting [Sigh].

I had a friend (now deceased) who was on the Aspergers spectrum and had to be reminded to shower. I had no idea that it was possible to dismiss that possibility from the data that was given before shaming was pronounced as a good approach.

Operating on assumptions does not seem an approach consistent with a "scientific" approach to available data.
 
  • #55
russ_watters said:
[Sigh] Please read the rest of the thread. My goal would not be to punish, but to correct. The difference between me and most of the others here is who's concerns take priority. Others seem to be primarily concerned with the concerns of the perpetrator, whereas my concern is for the victims.

Perhaps we don't see this as a crime?

I see it as the weighing of rights and responsibilities. Jefferson said:
"I know no safe depositary of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power."

Denying a person education is a very serious infringement not only of their rights, but of mine as well. While offensive odor is bad, tyranny is worse.

Thus I might see this as sort of situation as an opportunity to educate the offensive person rather than try to set up a victim/perpetrator situation. Benevolence works more often than not.
 
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  • #56
Is it possible it's a medical infection?

I've heard that things like yeast infections can really smell foul or fishy sometimes. If it's medical, maybe it's not a showering thing and he needs to see a doctor.
 
  • #57
maybe he is allergic to showers. that's his medical condition

he is pretty darn stubborn if he doesn't shower. in my culture we call these subjects 'were not raised' right

it happens. i would avoid this person. i mean a classroom is pretty big right? at least 20 seats to pick from? i would go into class last minute before it starts and pick a good seat.

maybe this is a science experiment of sorts to see ur reaction. :mad:
 
  • #58
I agree with russ_watters on this one. Just speak to the teacher about it. It is the teacher's responsibility to make sure the teaching environment is not disrupted. Why should we assume a teacher who is supposed to approach this issue in a professional manner would handle it less well than an annoyed and offended (and less likely to be mature) student?
 
  • #59
I agree with Russ and DocZaius. Talk to the instructor and do it soon...before the classroom is infested with lice or bedbugs (like the emergency room where I work! ?:) when the 'unwashed' show up for treatment crawling with visible bugs).
 
  • #60
I'd go with the anonymous letter, this allows you to say everything you need to and to choose your words carefully, while avoiding confrontation and unnecessary embarrassment.

Hi Sam! You've surely noticed how no one wants to sit near you in lectures, and how people don't invite you to join their group in practical classes. It's because you pong something terrible. We notice how you keep wearing the same clothes for weeks on end without laundrying, but that's only part of the problem. To put it bluntly, you need to take a shower every day, and buy yourself some deoderant, too. Everyone has to shower each day or we'd all stink. Maybe you're not aware of how bad you smell, but just look around at how others react to you and you'll see there is a major problem. If there isn't a shower where you are living, then you can easily join the college sports club and get free use of their campus showers. I'm sending you this as a letter to avoid embarrassment to us both; I'm not wanting to offend you, just asking you to start observing good personal hygiene. It goes without saying that after you graduate no employer is going to hire someone who smells dreadful and doesn't care. ... Please take this in the good nature it is intended. Start taking a daily shower, and wash your clothes. I look forward to getting to know you better and becoming friends.

Then make 100 copies and have everyone in the class mail it to his letterbox!
 
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  • #61
jw6661 said:
maybe he is allergic to showers. that's his medical condition

If he's not taking showers and it's affecting you and others' ability to concentrate and perform in school, then you have a right to get him to leave I think. It's unfortunate that a college student, who seems to be smart, would allow his hygiene to get to that point. But, it doesn't mean others should have to suffer from it in a way that hurts their education.

Nevertheless, I think it could still be a medical condition. I have met a woman who had a medical condition that emitted a foul odor. There was little she could do about it other than cover it up with perfume. It wasn't that bad, but occasionally when a blast of air blew through you would catch a scent of it.

I felt sorry for her, but didn't make a big fuss about it. She was nice and the odor wasn't that bad (although noticeable). I think everyone else around her also just dealt with it by sucking it up. If it was very bad, though, I might have done something.

Just keep in mind that sometimes things like this aren't the other person's fault. It could be a medical condition.
 
  • #62
Don't sit near him? That seems like a pretty obvious solution.

This whole thread is basically a one sided perspective on something that could be rather complex. Perhaps the student works right before class at some crappy job shoveling cow manure, and that's why he stinks. Perhaps a million other things. Your observations of his steam account (really?) and that he appears to wear the same clothes (are they really the same, or does he just own 10 different grey shirts?) aren't enough to strictly say he's doing it because he wants to irritate people, or that he has some problem.

There were times when I went to community college in which I had spent the entire day sweating my butt off at work, and basically had 20 or so minutes to get to class on time after. There was no time to shower, and even though I changed clothes, I know I smelled rank. No one ever said anything, but I would have been quite angry if they had.

The adult thing to do in this situation is to be an adult, don't sit near this student. If that's unavoidable, grow a thicker skin and realize odors can't actually harm you.
 
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