The Stink at MIT

The stench at one popular Massachusetts Institute of Technology study spot has gotten so out of hand that student leaders have taken action to combat it.

April 15, 2010

The stench at one popular Massachusetts Institute of Technology study spot has gotten so out of hand that student leaders have taken action to combat it.

Monday, the Undergraduate Association Senate passed a measure to provide samples of hygienic products to students studying in a 24-hour reading room in the institution’s student center during finals week next month. Samples of soap, toothpaste, mouthwash and deodorant are to be purchased with $441 from the Senate’s “discretionary fund” and will be made available on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Janet Li, the sophomore student senator who penned the bill, said she has been approached by a number of students who complain about the smell in the reading room. Though Li acknowledged the humor of the situation, she argued the foul odor in the space is a relevant issue for the student government to address.

“The problem is that some people just kind of stay in the reading room and do marathon study sessions, and they kind of forget about their personal hygiene,” said Li, a 19-year-old biological engineering major. “It’s kind of bad already, but it definitely does get worse during finals.”

Li added that this reading room “is notorious for some reason.” Despite the good nature of her bill, Li admitted she was uncertain how the free samples would be received by students who frequent the space.

“It’s hard to say if they’ll go fast,” Li said, recognizing the potential for insult in the availability of items like soap and deodorant. “I don’t know if that many people are actually so smelly that they’ll want to take these samples. We’ll see.”

Tim Jenks, the freshman vice chair of the Senate, noted that he found the bill humorous but acknowledged that he still thought it served a worthwhile purpose.

“I get the impression that it was a bill meant in good, light spirits to just remind students that studying is just one of several things to take care of during finals week,” Jenks wrote via e-mail. “I’m sure if we put out snacks to remind students to eat too, we’d get a few chuckles for the same reason that most students don’t have a problem with eating either, but the food would be gone in a flash.”

Finals week or not, Jenks argued that he does not think all that many MIT students forget about their personal hygiene.

“I don’t think many people will be offended by this at all,” wrote Jenks, who is currently undeclared but hopes to study mechanical engineering. “I think several of the people who don’t live close to the student center will appreciate the reminder, or, say, the mouthwash after a meal. Others will get a kick out of it. For the people who like to camp and cram during finals week, if they absolutely don’t want to go back to their room, our athletic facility with showers is just next door.”

Li cautioned that outsiders should not think that all MIT students have “poor personal hygiene” or “stink.”

Staff members who work in the student center with the odor did not wish to comment, said Patti Richards, an MIT spokeswoman, who noted that "this is a student issue."


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