I teach engineering at a community college in the US. I currently have a student with very poor hygiene. He stinks pretty badly, has obviously greasy hair, doesn’t change his clothes frequently, and I usually seat him in the back of the room (during exams and labs, when I have power over seating arrangements) so I don’t have to smell his (relatively strong) body odor.

This student has also spoken with a colleague of mine about his low self-esteem. He’s worried that he isn’t making friends, and doesn’t know if the people he hangs out with are hanging out with him because they want something from him (help with classwork) or because they are truly friends.

In my opinion, this student follows me around like a puppy, and he tries too hard to impress people (students and faculty alike). I am a young-ish female faculty member and I try to create very large boundaries, especially with my male students. As an example, he frequently finds the need to explain to me (in way too much detail) why he gets questions wrong on exams (I don’t care, and I don’t need to know, which I’ve told him several times with no success).

So, I would like to mention to this student that his hygiene is off-putting and isn’t helping him out in the friends department. However, because he already follows me around like a puppy dog, I don’t want to encourage any more interaction from him. Additionally, it frankly embarrasses me to have to bring up hygiene issues with somebody in their late teens / early twenties. How can I bring this issue up while still maintaining my boundary as a female faculty member who doesn’t want her male students following her around and asking her for advice all the time?

I was hoping that I would be finished up with this student by now, but I am the only professor who teaches Electrical Engineering courses, so I can’t recommend that he take classes with someone else, or ask another colleague to discuss this with him. He will be taking another of my courses next semester and I don’t personally know any of his other intended professors for next semester to ask them to bring it up.

  • 2
    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – aeismail
    Dec 19 '17 at 17:57
  • 1
    What exactly do you mean the student follows you "like a puppy dog"? Are you sure this behaviour is unique to you and that the student doesn't do the same to others?
    – Pharap
    Dec 21 '17 at 0:09
  • 5
    @Pharap waits around after labs (even if he finishes early) so he can hang around, and always wants to walk with me to my office. I have had to tell him very explicitly (he doesn't take subtle clues) to leave labs when he finishes and that I like to walk to my office alone. Any time I ask for help he is so adamant about helping that nobody else gets the opportunity. It is possible he does this with other professors. I'm sure he means well but it drives me nuts.
    – lemontwist
    Dec 21 '17 at 0:16
  • This is something to bring up with your administrators. You are there to teach engineering. Social and hygiene skills are not your responsibility. A student in college is an adult, responsible for their own upkeep and presentation. It's his responsibility. If he's coming to classes in a condition which is nasally toxic, then he is a distraction for everyone present and is robbing them of some of the education they have paid for. Take it up with whomever manages you and ask them to take care of it. Having them deal with this and his boundary issues is best for your career safety also.
    – Aiken Drum
    Dec 23 '17 at 10:29

15 Answers 15


I think honesty is the best policy.

We had a pupil at school who also had a really bad hygiene issue, his body odor was horrendous. As an example, once another pupil squirted yogurt at him and it got in his hair, it was still there days later!

It turned out he had no sense of smell. A teacher noticed the problem and told him directly 'I think you have a bit of a body odor problem, most people shower every other day' Or words to those effect.

It turned out that he was actually grateful (after the initial embarrassment of course) and to this day his friend will gently remind him if he is a bit smelly.

If you feel a bit uncomfortable saying it directly maybe you could try to find out more about his home life. Surely his parents would tell him to shower more?

There could be a benefit on both sides if you tell him directly, it may make it clearer that you are his teacher and he is the pupil, it will probably reinstate some boundaries and reduce/stop the unwanted interaction.

Obviously I don't recommend saying it in front of anyone and I can see a problem with you calling him into your office alone, but there is bound to be a time when you happen to be alone together such as after class or something. Or you could wait until he brings up the subject about having low self-esteem, you could also have this conversation with your colleague who has previously spoke to him and maybe they could broach the subject with him. But as said above by having the conversation yourself you may eliminate any romantic feelings and reinstate the teacher-pupil relationship.

Also you have to remember that your role as a teacher is to make sure you give every pupil all you can for them to succeed. His poor hygiene is in no doubt holding him back and will do so in the future; can you imagine if he turned up to a interview like this? If he was struggling in class or under-performing on his projects you would pull him to one side and have a word with him, so pulling him to one side and having a word about his hygiene/odor is really no different when you get over the initial embarrassment.

  • 1
    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – ff524
    Dec 21 '17 at 16:33
  • 2
    OP should proooooooobably have another faculty member or two present when she tells him he's a smelly person. Not our of fear of physical safety, but to make sure there's multiple people to vouch against impropriety. Some people don't take criticism well. It will also allow OP to be comfortable and avoid the "Alone in a room" with him scenario she's (understandably) worried about. Dec 22 '17 at 15:47
  • @Adonalsium But having other people present and hearing the conversation makes it much more uncomfortable and embarrassing for him - it may even in itself create the problem that hurts him above tolerance. Dec 22 '17 at 19:57
  • I wasn't going to reply as I don't want to start a discussion but I agree with Volker. Having another person will increase the embarrassment by a hundred times. If the op is worried about the 'alone in the room situation' I suggest just keeping the door open Dec 22 '17 at 20:06
  • @VolkerSiegel That's life. It's the best choice in this situation. Keeping the door open doesn't prevent any of the shit OP wants to avoid. Having a trusted colleague there does. Dec 27 '17 at 13:47

In your position, I wouldn't bring it up.

The only appropriate way to approach a personal issue such as this involves building a personal relationship with the student, which you are trying to avoid. Even if you are able to bring it up in a way that the student takes well, it will make him feel he has established a connection with you. If it needs to be mentioned, you should find someone else who can talk to him.

  • 18
    I don't agree that this is an issue so personal it can only be addressed through a personal relationship. Such an extreme lack of personal hygiene is just plain rude to the people around you, and I don't see an issue of being up front about this. Though I understand that some people might not be comfortable being this direct with someone. Dec 18 '17 at 10:57
  • 4
    @LasseMeyer If I'm disgusted by overweight people, can I ask them to lose weight? I mean, that would certainly be in the interest of their health. It would also be in the interest of the people around them, considering that, in all honesty, slim people are nicer to look at than not-so-slim peole. Similarly, if I'm disgusted by smokers, can I ask them to stop smoking? I mean, surely smoking is unhygienic. Dec 18 '17 at 22:45
  • 4
    @LasseMeyer There are differences between the cultures in different countries, but addressing a personal hygiene issue like this is not usually the responsibility of an instructor, nor is it especially appropriate socially in the United States. And if maintaining personal boundaries is important, then it should doubly be avoided. Dec 18 '17 at 23:03
  • 8
    @MathematicsStudent1122 I think it is important to note that smokers know they smoke, fat people know they are overweight. But most people are unaware of how they smell, and the remedy is easier than quitting smoking or losing weight. So you're not telling/asking him not to stink, you're informing him so he may remedy it.
    – jiggunjer
    Dec 21 '17 at 8:12
  • 2
    I think it is fine to tell students not to smoke in the classroom. Dec 23 '17 at 16:54

How can I bring this issue up while still maintaining my boundary as a female faculty member who doesn’t want her male students following her around and asking her for advice all the time?

I don't think that you can...because what you're wanting to do is cross a major boundary (discussing personal hygiene in private) and maintain a large boundary with someone who has boundary issues (following you like a puppy). You can't have it both ways.

As a woman, I can attest that our gender is taught to protect men's feelings from being hurt at all costs. That's why it's so hard to reject a man who we don't want to deal with, for whatever reason. We come up with all sorts of excuses because being direct makes us a nasty word, and we don't want to be perceived as a You-Know-What. You will have to set that aside and be direct in your communications with this student, and PLEASE do not invite him to speak privately. If he can't pick up on normal social cues, DO NOT invite him to be alone with you! I wish we lived in a perfect world where you don't have to worry about having your good intentions being taken the wrong way, but we don't live in that world. If I had a dollar for every time a guy misunderstood my friendly smile as being DTF, I'd be a millionaire by now. Don't most schools let you communicate with students via campus email? Why can't you send an email to him saying other students have complained that they can't focus because of the smell, and explain that most people shower every other day? Keep your note brief and to-the-point.

Maybe he does have no sense of smell. It's called anosmia. It's hereditary, so maybe his family is the same. My brother has this disorder, inherited from my grandpa. When my folks came to visit his dorm for the first time, they about died from the overwhelming stench of rotting chicken wings and moldy potatoes. My brother is incredibly smart and a sharp wit, but he didn't have a clue how bad old garbage smelled until he was told. Now he knows to take it out regularly. If the smell is that bad, try the email. If you want to follow up, do it in a hallway or courtyard, where other people are around but in the background. Of course you'll hurt his feelings, but he needs to learn this fundamental life lesson. Sometimes lessons are painful. You're doing him a huge favor by EDUCATING your student. One day he may even thank you.

Also, if you don't want him following you around like a puppy, then you will have to "use your words" and say so. Every time you let him do this, you're reinforcing the message that it's okay to follow women around. It's NOT okay. It's borderline creeper/stalker behavior.

Be firm. Be direct. Be safe. I wish you much luck in this!

  • 14
    I have a very close friend who has anosmia. He was fortunately diagnosed early and he knew he would not be able to know wheather he stinks or not. The solution in his case is not rocket science: he anticipates this by over-showering, carefully applying deodorant and perfume (but not too much) and changing clothes more often than others would do. And asking me if he is OK :) His wife now took over from me.
    – WoJ
    Dec 18 '17 at 15:14
  • 9
    -1 It was going so well until "our gender is taught to protect men's feelings from being hurt at all costs.". This is not a gender issue, gender does not factor into the equation.
    – Pharap
    Dec 19 '17 at 9:08
  • 7
    @Pharap In the current of society, of course it is. Sadly, gender factors in every equation.
    – Evpok
    Dec 19 '17 at 9:37
  • 8
    Downvoted for the first sentence. If the student's body odor is interfering with the other students' attention to the class, it is no longer a personal hygiene issue. Asking the student to shower and change his clothes before returning to class is setting a boundary, not crossing one.
    – JeffE
    Dec 19 '17 at 12:59
  • 7
    @AndreaLazzarotto Study after study have shown that women who are as direct as men in the workplace are viewed (by men and women) as being aggressive. "Nasty word" is a euphemism for "bitch". Dec 21 '17 at 16:51

We had a student like this who turned out to be homeless and living out of his car. We managed to convince the recreation department to give him a gym pass so that he could use their showers.

Broaching this subject is extremely difficult, however, especially to protect his dignity and human rights.

  • 4
    This looks like a comment rather than an answer. I think OP realises that broaching the subject is difficult, and that is exactly what they would like help with. Dec 19 '17 at 14:42
  • 5
    In the case that it is that the student does not have access to a shower, actually everything becomes a lot easier, particularly if the uni has many showers e.g. for bike commuters. One just finds some excuse to include a slide at the start of a lecture talking about campus facilities that students might not realize exist. There are always lots of facilities most people don't know about (at least that is my experience). And just so happen to include a list of locations where there are showers on campus. Dec 20 '17 at 14:30

Your choices are to do something or not. It's possible you could pass the problem off to someone else but from the sound of it, there's no one available who knows the student better.

Personally, I would ask to speak to him privately in your office, ask permission to discuss a personal concern unrelated to his performance. Make clear that you're worried the topic might seem intrusive, that you care about your students and they problems they may be facing and mean for the conversation to be helpful to his future career success and that you're prepared to apologize if the student feels you've crossed a boundary. If he agrees to have the conversation, tell him what you've observed then reiterate that you care about your students and that if he feels you've crossed a boundary, that you understand and apologize and will not bring it up again. It's possible the student is homeless and doing his best.

  • 96
    Asking a student with boundary and clinging issues to come for private office hours, then leading with "I want to talk about a private matter..." seems like a very bad strategy.
    – Jeff
    Dec 17 '17 at 18:16
  • 5
    So what's your answer and why is mine a "very bad strategy"? You don't think my strategy will solve the problem and help the student? Instructors have to be able to give useful, at times negative feedback that students may not want to hear. This isn't the usual topic but I don't see that as a reason to shy from providing information that could benefit the student. Dec 17 '17 at 18:50
  • 11
    @Nicole I think it's a good strategy but the phrasing of how you'd ask to see the student about a "very private matter" could be misconstrued as being some kind of romantic interest (especially for a student with possibly limited social skills). Maybe it'd be better if lemontwist asked to see the student in a way that made it explicitly clear that it was as a teacher (and nothing more). Maybe even with another teacher.
    – Jam
    Dec 17 '17 at 19:01
  • 13
    @Jam I think that any possible misconception of a romantic interest could last for about two seconds once the actual conversation starts and he learns the concern is his poor hygiene. In any event, I don't believe that's a good reason to avoid having an uncomfortable conversation the student needs to hear. Dec 17 '17 at 19:08
  • 14
    I think the point is to look for a phrasing that can't get his hopes up, saving him some discomfort, and so he doesn't show up at this meeting with hopes he wouldn't have had before, because the time between invitation and meeting isn't 2 seconds. e.g. "I want to talk about something kind of awkward". Avoid the words "personal" or "private" until you're already talking about hygiene Dec 17 '17 at 20:09

This answer was written assuming that the student is not a fringe case, i.e. in need of medical help, and that he trusts you in a mentor capacity as seems to be the case from your description.

You've got to be brave enough to tell him. In a class, tell him in a discreet way, so as not to embarrass him, that you would like to have a serious conversation about his student duties (or something similar, but don't forget to put the tonic/stress on the formal content of the conversation) after class ends. If possible, I would have that conversation right there in that empty room, which is somewhere rather impersonal, so that he has less chance to think otherwise.

I would start the conversation by saying that what I'm about to tell him I think it's due to my role as a teacher and a fellow human being. Because I'm worried about the fulfilment of his potential as a student and a social being, and in no way you mean any disrespect. Use formal expressions, the more formal the better, but balance that formality by expressing your concern for his well-being and success as a student, and be gentle/calm.

Start by saying that the dignity of human life is not measured by how productive one is, how many things/friends we have, or by how talented someone is. Regardless of how we look, perform, or own, each human person has to be respected and respect others. Despite any flaws that we may have our dignity does not suffer with that.

[Side note: your expression «follows me around like a puppy» may indicate of how far and foreign you see him. For a truly compassionate approach to work, you must also work on yourself to see your student not as simply a flawed individual, but as someone equal to you. He's your fellow. He's a human being, just like you, someone's son. Overcome that feeling of repulsiveness you most likely have not by denying it, but by understanding in that person's background there might be some traumatic episodes that resulted in the person he now is. 'Embrace' the person, not the flaw.]

Now tell him, what you're about to say should not be interpreted as something mean, or intended to be harmful, but that it will certainly feel like it, and nevertheless he should be ready to hear it. Wait a moment for this to sink in his mind. Let a few seconds pass. His facial expression should have changed by now... If his standing, ask him to seat down (shows concern), and reiterate that what you'll say is only due to concern as a teacher, nothing more or less. Ask him if he trusts you in this regard? He mostly likely say yes. (if he says no, see the 1st line of this whole text)

Now for the hard part.

Tell him that in your professional interactions with him, his smell has been an issue. Don't say that he smells bad. Let him make that inference... if he's not capable, then say it. Ask him if he is having some financial problems. Do it, even if you think he hasn't any. The purpose of this is to ease him a bit, since he will most likely take this personally... by opening the chance of the cause of this hygiene problem to not be him, you're giving him an escape route to save his face...

If he cries, give him some tissue paper (bring some in advance).

On the not so off chance that he gets angry at you (most likely because he's angry at himself and the world), don't lose composure or calmness. Don't overreact. Try to be understanding and gentle, and still be formal. It could be expected of him to say some hurtful things, but don't take them seriously. You need to be stronger than that.

  • 9
    The paragraph containing "He's a human being, just like you" is a lovely and empathetic reminder of shared humanity, and the open-hearted approach you suggest could be a wonderful approach provided that the other person can be relied upon to return the favor and respect one's boundaries. Unfortunately, this is not always the case (for example, situations like this can escalate to stalking or worse). In such a situation it is quite reasonable for the poster to set boundaries to protect her personal safety and her professional time.
    – Tom Church
    Dec 17 '17 at 22:14
  • 5
    @TomChurch I may be wrong, but I find that nowadays, in most cases, people tend to undeservedly judge them harshly as if we were in an already seen film/movie, where we had all the useful information, and justice could be exacted in merciless manner. In real life the situation does not escalates that easily and there are usually important signs of that behaviour. It just doesn't comes out of nowhere. I'm not saying it's not a possibility, just that is not as probable as our current fiction intoxicated society thinks... Less fiction, more reality. Dec 18 '17 at 0:35
  • 4
    +1: "If possible, I would have that conversation right there in that empty room, which is somewhere rather impersonal" is an excellent idea - the middle ground between 1:1 private meetings and public ones.
    – WoJ
    Dec 18 '17 at 15:17

Ouch. I am especially surprised that your college does not offer adequate resources to deal with such a problem.

Based on your description, I strongly recommend against arranging a private meeting with this student, especially in what might be perceived as an "intimate" setting (such as your office) by someone who obviously has a bit of an oddball personality.

On the other hand, you mentioned that he spoke with some of your colleagues as well. This leads me to recommend talking to those colleagues and soliciting their help. In particular, if a male colleague is able and willing to step in, it might be beneficial for him to breach the subject with a male student of low self-esteem. Don't gang up on him of course... the goal is not to bully or intimidate him, only to remove any impression that you or your colleagues are talking to him in a personal, as opposed to a professional, capacity.

When talking to the student, I'd recommend a constructive strategy: instead of placing the emphasis on criticizing his present personal hygiene, offer recommendations. Again, the goal would be to help him, not hurt him. You may also learn that he may be facing issues you did not anticipate, e.g., he may be living in poverty, be homeless, etc. Try to be understanding... who knows, he may be struggling to escape from a difficult life situation and your words may make the difference between a broken life vs. a successful one. (Then again, you may know more about the student's background than your question reveals, which would render my point moot.)

  • 1
    Yes. Also, one might suggest/speculate that the very existence of the issue is a sign of some problem in understanding social relationships, etc., so that to appeal to sense about such things is immediately doomed. No, I do not advocate presuming anything about people, but if one intends to help them then various inferences (if not deductions) can serve the greater good, insofar as they suggest preparations and qualifications about communication, etc. Dec 18 '17 at 0:02

(1) The bad smell.

You said he follows you around like a puppy. I think this might mean he comes to your office hours on at least some occasions. Or if not, he talks to you after class and walks with you as you're leaving the classroom and the building. Well, either of those situations gives you an opportunity to ask him some questions without others overhearing.

John, do you have a place where you can take a shower?

Do you have easy access to a washing machine where you're living?

These questions will sort out for you whether it's a poverty/access problem, or something else. My hunch is it's something else. Here's my suggestion for that case:

Okay, John, I want to ask you a favor. Could you come to class with clean hair, clean body, and clean clothes on Wednesday? [Assuming today is Monday.]

(After he says okay --) Thanks, I'm looking forward to that. See you Wednesday! (Now duck into the bathroom to end the encounter.)

I carpooled for a period of time with someone who I suspect had high-functioning autism. We had a mutually satisfying relationship of sorts. But I had to spell some things out for him that I wouldn't normally. It was fine. Just tell him what you need to tell him, don't make a big deal about it.

On Wednesday, if there's ANY improvement, give positive feedback. There's no need to put any emotion into it. Example:

John, I see you washed your hair. I'm glad. Thank you!

(after letting that sink in briefly --) How did it go with the laundry assignment?

Provide simple, practical guidance as necessary. He might not know about using detergent in the washing machine, for example. He might not know that the winter coat needs to be cleaned, too. (This is an extremely common male failing....) Since washing and drying a winter coat can be tricky, you might want to suggest he take it to a dry cleaner.

(2) The boring you with too many details, for example about some mistake he made with an assignment.

Change the subject. If necessary, ask him to wait a moment with his topic, for example:

Wait, John, before you tell me more about that, I wanted to ask you, have you thought about what you'd like to choose for your final project?

If he has trouble picking up on subtle cues, then just don't expect him to pick up on subtle cues. Meaning, be very straight with him. Example:

John, I have to walk across campus now to get to an appointment, and I want to walk alone. I want to use that time to daydream on my own and think my own thoughts. I will see you Wednesday. Bye, now!

  • I like this approach. It's very straightforward, honest, and non-judgemental.
    – henning
    Dec 19 '17 at 9:03

If you have councelling support and professional standards folks, then take an opposite track of planning a direct meeting that would simply provide the person with the (percieved) current facts.

With the plan in hand, talk to the councilling service to see if the proposed approach would hit the nail on the head (remember this is an engineering student where quiet facts are suitably stubborn), and then check with the professional standards as to any parts that are not acceptable (e.g. the need to have a councillor/witness in attendance).

Then simply have the meeting, present the quiet facts, and have options for help (the most important bit) with location of laundromats, typical hygene regimes (pragmatic, not pampered), where the showers are that the cyclists use, or the sports facility changing rooms, etc. At least you will have tried.

A colleague would cycle 10 miles to the local university in all weathers, then shower, stay late, then cycle back to his rented flat that had no hot water and no cooker, in a rough area. He was a character!


Unfortunately, these days one must consider the possibility that the student is homeless, and doesn't have access to good facilities for hygiene. There is evidence that more than 10% of students are impacted in some way by homelessness. In such a case, even if they can clean up a bit in a restroom, they might not have access to laundry facilities.

I've never had to have such a conversation with a student. I hope such issues can be caught and addressed before they get to me, not because I don't want to deal with them, just because I'd like such issues rectified as early as possible.

I suppose I'd address it by asking "Are there resources you need that I can help you find?" and if a situation such as homelessness comes up, I'd be as supportive as I could be, stressing how proud of them I would be for pursuing an education in that position.

  • Can you elaborate a bit on the first sentence? In particular: Are there many homeless students? And what led to this (seemingly recent) change?
    – user114084
    Sep 18 '19 at 15:28
  • @user114084, done, to a certain extent. I documented the problem, but this probably isn't the right question for addressing the trends and reasons, and I wouldn't be the right person to do that. In the context of this question, though, I think making mentors aware of the issue is important. Sep 18 '19 at 15:35
  • Thank you. I asked precisely because I was totally not aware of this issue.
    – user114084
    Sep 18 '19 at 15:38
  • @user114084 I knew in the background that it was a problem, but you prompted me to learn a bit more. The article is illuminating. I never suspected that there were schools required by law to provide safe parking at night for people living in their cars. Sep 18 '19 at 15:39

I think he steps over the border from the point that he stinks. Bad clothing is not very bad, but stinking is always unacceptable.

People are often over-sensitive in clothing things, I think it is a bug in the collective mentality of our society.

During my studies, also I wasn't a very well-clothed man. I was never stinking, but I simply ignored this expectation of the society, to have always well-ironed shirts and well-brushed shoes. I simply used all my clothes while they were usable. After I've entered the job market, I've got my very clear feedback to improve on the spot. And I did.

The improvement in the treatment on the job market was more significant after I've got my degree (MSc). This is obviously psychotic, however clothing well is much easier as to get a diplom. :-)

Now the problem is that the academian world simply doesn't have this clear feedback.

Nothing, nobody warns him. Everybody silently ignores him. (And "votes him down" ;-) )

Probably not too many people talks with him, because it is a taboo. But you can. Talk with him in private. Be friendly with him, and explain: in the academian world, everything is okay until he doesn't stink. Explain him, that not clothing well is worser on the job market as if he doesn't have a degree.

Do this in a friendly tone. He will surely understand. From the point that he understands: you, as a teacher, are violating the taboos of the society in order to help him, he will tolerate everything from you.

  • 2
    “this expectation of the society, to have always well-ironed shirts and well-brushed shoes” In an Engineering department? Dec 21 '17 at 0:35
  • @AndreaLazzarotto Sometimes yes. In my experience, it highly depends on the local customs.
    – peterh
    Dec 21 '17 at 0:38
  • I am from Italy (which is considered to be relatively more "elegant" in terms of clothing than northern Europe) but I have spent a couple of semesters in engineering and scientific departments in other EU countries. I can assure you even here a low percentage of students wear a shirt. Let alone an ironed one... and sports shoes don't get brushed anyways. The only places where you see students even wearing blazers is in economics or law schools. Dec 21 '17 at 0:42
  • @AndreaLazzarotto Students are typically lesser well-clothed as the teachers. Inside the students, typically the higher ones are better clothed. It's cause may be that they have a closer contact also with the job market, and they are thinking more about, what will they do after graduation. This is the effect what motivates them to improve (although it is not very rational, in my opinion). But this question is more about a student, whose main problem is not his clothes, but that he stinks.
    – peterh
    Dec 21 '17 at 0:50
  • Oh yes, I agree. Indeed I was wondering why you were giving emphasis on the (unreferenced) assumption that society espects well-ironed shirts for people in their twenties. This question is even tagged United States, one of the countries that gives the least judgment on people based on how they dress. :) Dec 21 '17 at 0:53

Ask someone else to bring it up with them.

Who? This depends on who there is and who you know, but I could imagine any of

  • other teaching staff (as already suggested by some)
  • administrative or counseling staff of your college
  • just anyone around the college who you know to have great social skills. E.g. if something similar were to happen at my current place of work, one of the secretaries of my department is extremely apt in talking to people.

If this would have been an employee at company it would have been an issue for the management/HR-department to handle. You should do the same: talk the professor that is also your manager or someone in a similar position (preferably someone who does not have a personal relationship with this student, if necessary the issue should be escalated to avoid such relationship). That person should then book an appointment with the student and very bluntly tell him "we have received several complaints about your personal hygiene" combined with an offer to connect him with a student counsellor or similar (someone in that position might as well attend this meeting).

Again, compare your situation with how a company would handle someone that has a problem with alcohol: typically a HR-manager and someone with some type of medical competence would have a meeting with the employee and explain the problem as well as offering help.

  • 1
    "talk the professor that is also your manager". For a teaching assistant, this would be excellent advice. But the poster IS the professor, so no such person exists.
    – Tom Church
    Dec 24 '17 at 17:11
  • @TomChurch Should be a dean or something like that that could do this.
    – d-b
    Dec 25 '17 at 2:42
  • 1
    @TomChurch - I'm sure this scene has played out many, many times, at many, many colleges. It's quite likely that the administration has longstanding policies about how to deal with stinky and/or clingy students. The OP obviously doesn't operate in a vacuum, so there's going to be someone above her in the administrative hierarchy who either knows these policies or can get the ball rolling with someone who does. There's no need for her to try to solve this on her own.
    – Aiken Drum
    Dec 29 '17 at 11:00

If nobody else tell him that his got a big hygiene problem, you should probably tell him when you have the occasion - and alone -.
This could at least help him.
When something is wrong (or good), people should know it to improve and know their defaults and qualities.

But don't be gentle.
He has to understand it the hard way.

Moreover you don't want any futher relation with him, so make him feel that you are not his friend nor friendable.
You are his teacher and nothing else.

You could also clearly tell him that you are not comfortable with him and you don't want him to follow you.
That it is not appropriate.

  • I'm not sure why you're being downvoted. People are too afraid of conflict. Boundaries need to be clear. Couching them in overly-diplomatic terms will confuse the listener or let them believe that they aren't entirely at fault. A person who has not taken the abundant clues in society to heart should not be given more of them. They need clear, crisp, loud instructions. Direct, clear communication is key, and preferably by a neutral third party of the student's gender, given that the goal is action, not shame.
    – Aiken Drum
    Dec 23 '17 at 10:46
  • On another note, I also agree that it would be best to make the student-teacher relationship as far from friendship as possible. This, to me, sounds like a crush in progress, and that can turn to stalking, especially with students who have boundary issues. If it were me, I would try to take what I know about their background and preferences and casually mention things that would irritate them. If a student loves cats, I'd let them hear me telling pro-dog/anti-cat jokes to other students. Give them a reason to independently decide that, while I may be cute or whatever, I'm not a good companion.
    – Aiken Drum
    Dec 23 '17 at 10:54
  • I didn't downvote, but the reason could be that this response simply expresses the desired outcomes (coming close to just repeating the original question) without explaining how to actually achieve that; so it does not really contribute an answer to the question.
    – Tom Church
    Dec 24 '17 at 17:13

I am going to suggest a different approach. You do not seem to want to tell him that, and in fact you seem to be wanting to distance yourself as much as possible from this student. I am assuming there are other students in your class, female students as well, with whom you may feel more comfortable establishing a closer relationship. You could then try to gather from her (or them) if there is an external problem you are unaware of regarding this student (home situation/homeless/etc.) and deal accordingly.

Alternatively, you could find out if other students may have approached him already regarding this issue, or the student you approach may decide to talk to him.

If the problem is as bad as you are describing, you are most likely not the only one who has noticed this problem, and not the only one who might be bothered by it or looking to talk to him.

  • 12
    To me, trying to solicit personal information about one undergraduate student from other students would be wildly inappropriate, both to the student himself and to the others. I have only done this when I feared someone's life was in danger.
    – Tom Church
    Dec 18 '17 at 1:54
  • OMG, this answer is so inappropriate :D
    – SSimon
    Dec 18 '17 at 5:04
  • Make sure you have a really good lawyer if you're even contemplating doing this. This could result in interaction between the digestive system and the ventilation system. Dec 19 '17 at 3:44
  • 2
    My students love me. I am always voted as best professor. We talk about all sort of issues. Never had a problem. Clearly, who has a problem are the professors who push the students to the bottom of the class because they can't stand their smell. Or those who are afraid of lawsuits. The only thing inappropriate is the lack of communication between an educator and his/her pupils.
    – user
    Dec 19 '17 at 13:13
  • Horrible answer. This is totally inappropriate.
    – user114084
    Sep 18 '19 at 15:29

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.