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How might a professor approach a student who comes to class and/or office hours wearing perfume or cologne that is distractingly or overwhelmingly powerful?

Certainly, different people have different thresholds for this sort of thing. Lets say that in this case it is unclear the extent to which this is distracting other students in class but it is clear to the teacher that it is strong enough to distract the teacher. Of course, it might be affecting other students as well.

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    Must... resist... but can't..."From upwind." Sep 27, 2014 at 1:10
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    @NateEldredge I was going to say "approach with a gas mask"...
    – user21984
    Sep 27, 2014 at 10:05

2 Answers 2

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I might ask quietly and privately to speak to the student immediately after class. At that point, when no one else is present, I would politely say, "I am sensitive to the strength of your perfume". After that, I would let the conversation unfold. When the student would be defensive, I would just politely repeat the one statement "I am sensitive to the strength of your perfume". I might add "This is a health-related issue for me, as much as an allergy might be. It could eventually affect how I could continue to teach in the class". I would NOT ask or even suggest the student should NOT wear the perfume or take any action. I would hope the student would volunteer that step.

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    Yes, additionally, you could make them aware that others nearby may be acutely sensitive to the perfume (e.g. asthmatics)
    – user21984
    Sep 27, 2014 at 10:07
  • Migraine and many other problems could exist.
    – neuronet
    Jul 23, 2016 at 17:01
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I feel that this could be treated differently depending on if the student is spending a lot of time at the department during business hours, or if the student is only going to a class. If you are only seeing the student in one class you may want to endure? I could easily see a student complaining about a teacher that is having opinions about his/hers perfume. If you are to complain I would open the conversation with "I am terribly sorry to bring this up but I have an allergy and..". It doesn't matter if it is true or not but it is a smooth way of handling it, which would save the student any embarrassment, and settle the issue effectively.

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    I am uncomfortable with some suggestions here. Is the idea that one should just "endure" appropriate when a reasonable option exists to fix the problem? Is an allergy really an "opinion"? Doesn't such a complaint suggest an unhealthy perception, and should we let our actions be driven by fear of unhealthy perceptions? Why start the request with an apology, and then end with a BUT phrase ... have we done something wrong, and won't the ending phrase just be ignored then? Why not just be straight-forward, respectful, polite, and make your concern known to the student? Sep 27, 2014 at 22:50
  • #Jeffrey Question 1: People may bother us in all sorts of ways. Of course you can choose not to "endure" this by confronting them. The smell of someones perfume may be enough for some people to confront them. I would choose not to, certainly if I am in a situation where I will only meet the person a few number of times. Question 2: No it is not and that is precisely the reason why I suggested that the OP should mention an allergy as it is a legitimate excuse in any scenario. Sep 28, 2014 at 1:31
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    @JeffreyWeimer Question 3: Some students (at least in the culture I am in) would find it strange if you confront them about their perfume without any reference to e.g. an allergy. You may find that an unhealthy perception, but some other people may not. Question 4: You start with an apology because you are going to comment on the other person's smell. Question 5: We have done nothing wrong, we are just trying to maintain the best of relations possible. Sep 28, 2014 at 1:32
  • @JeffreyWeimer Question 6: I do not think it increases the risk of being ignored. A person who you are in a good relation with, who are complaining about an allergy that you are causing.. you would probably respond in an appropriate way. Question 7: Yes true. I do think that you have some valid points. But sometimes straigh-forward, as in repeating the phrase "I am sensitive to the strength of your perfume" may also come across as negative to someone who is young, uncertain about themselves or any other reason. That is why I suggested another approach, which may or may not be the best. Sep 28, 2014 at 1:37
  • I appreciate and accept your references to cultural differences. Thanks. Sep 28, 2014 at 19:16

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