The Stinky Center

I would like to address something we are bound to rarely come across in the literature: In what manner is a consultant to deal with a student’s halitosis? What about an impermeable membrane of body odor? Is it, at any time, appropriate to say to a student, “excuse me, but I believe you may have stepped in dog dung”? And if the answer comes back, “no, I haven’t,” how does one recover form such an offensive misstep?

All joking aside, this is something we don’t discuss. This offensive matter cannot be relegated to the realm of “take a deep breath and start again” (this strategy will invariably make the situation worse). A student’s “aura” so to speak is far beyond the topic of misappropriation, far from the context of colonialism, feminism, or any ism within the center.

Some will accuse me of insensitivity. But it is the oversensitivity of my olfactory that helps bring this issue to smell. Who among you hasn’t pondered a similar topic? Have you not had a consultation with the football team’s lineman who hurried from practice in order to make the consultation on time? What about the culinary arts student who has not yet learned of their overuse of garlic?

Now be advised: I am no theorist. But I have devised a couple short-term strategies that you may find helpful. To avoid overt discomfort, mix and match the techniques so as to appear most natural.

1). A common non-verbal sign of analytic thought is the “stroking of the beard or mustache.” This ancient gesticulation indicating wisdom is simple, and you needn’t even have a beard. It follows as such: at a particularly engaging moment in the text, raise a hand and, with brow furrowed, stroke the area around the mouth (yours, not the student’s). To use this movement to blockade a stench, use the hand to rub the area directly below the nose. Some variations include a slight humming sound to indicate deep thought. This works well for extended periods of silence.

2). It is not uncommon for college students to rest their elbows on table-tops and in turn rest their chins on the propped, closed fists or happen hands connected to said elbows. This position alleviates strain on the neck by supporting the student’s head. But, with a little tweaking of this common form of informal posture, you can block a student’s odor without offending them at all. Simply turn the open hand outward so that the fingertips are directed at the ear and rest the mouth in the palm of the hand. If placed correctly, the far side of the hand will rest directly below the nose; the smell will be blocked. Your head is also supported in a comfortable way.

I’m sure there are many more techniques out there. I would love to read your thoughts on this topic. If you have yet to encounter a smelly consultation, be ever alert—they come as quite a surprise.


  1. Dale-a challenging issue indeed. Perhaps one thing to add is that at the end of the consultation, you could remind the student that he is free to make another appointment--either at the center, or over email. Make sure that you bring up email consultations as an option-technology can be a true olfactory saver.

  2. Yes, a very challenging issue. Thank goodness that I have been fortunate enough not to encounter any "stinky" situations at the center, but if I do in the future, I think that I'll give some of your fool-proof techniques a whirl--and the email suggestion's a great one, too!!!

  3. while i havent encountered a stinky student i have encountered students with other ticks, quirks, that i have had a hard time overcomming. I had a student come in once, a freshman (most likely a cheerleader at her high school) who kept grunting like she was shitting her pants. It was clock work. every fifteen seconds she would grunt laboriously as if working out the morning the frequency of the grunts, more likely the morning prime rib...It really distracted me. I couldn't focus after five minutes of it. I'd read, and then hear her and loose complete concentration on the paper. I too wanted to ask, "do you need to use the restroom?" "Are you having bowel issues?" "are the contractions starting early?" better judgement won out and i did not comment on her oh! so annoying moans.

    Really though, what method really is most effiecent in ignoring such distracting events and focusing on the paper. I guess first not being a jerk would be a good step. That's not plausible. possibly ear plugs?

    i'm drawing blanks...i have no idea how to overcome said scenarios. Ignoring them would be my best solution; however, if i can't do it in real life, how can i do it in the center?

    any ideas? any tricks you vets have applied over the semesters?

  4. Oh my, I must say that I haven't has concerns with odors, thank goodness. I have a hard time not making awkward expressions when I smell something terribly unpleasant. I don't know what to do, you could perhaps cough for a moment and excuse yourself to get a drink and come back with a cup of strong smelling coffee, assuming you have it available in the Center (that is, made already, if not, you might get a pot brewing at least). The strong smell of the coffee might help mask the smell, just keep it close to you, so you can smell it, and if you get a particularly strong wiff of the individual, take a nice long sip and inhalation from your cup.

    Also, if you are going to get some coffee, you should offer some to the student as well. Not only is it appropriate and polite…It will give an even stronger coffee scent in the area if they accept.


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