'Please use deodorant': UH professor's message strikes controversial chord

HOUSTON – A letter written by a University of Houston engineering professor that was supposed to be addressing new graduate students on possible issues of body odor has some UH students repulsed.

A KPRC2 viewer described the letter as disappointing, insensitive and outright racist.

The letter highlights body odor issues in class by singling out certain ethnicities by writing that "people from India use a lot of spices" and "Southeast Asian countries use a lot of garlic.”

The letter urges students to take showers and to use deodorant and mouthwash.

Student reaction on campus was mixed.

“Being Indian, I’m not offended. I know how those things smell, right, so, and being from a different country, we are representing our people here, so might as well leave a good impression on them and not smell bad,” said Harry Minosha.

“I don’t think it’s appropriate at all. He didn't have to go into detail about different cultures and what they eat. I personally think that's racist. It's very offensive,” Gisselle Gurra said.

“It's really bad, being an Indian myself. It's bad to really point that out in such a dramatic way,” said one student.

The owners of Monica Lewis School of Etiquette believe the professor could have taken a different approach.

“You should address a personal issue with the person. Don’t do a public statement. You are not a part of the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). Don’t generalize, don’t make stereotypical comments and don’t isolate the person,” said the owner of Monica Lewis, Darian Lewis.

Here is the letter that was sent to students:

"Hi, All:

"Welcome to campus. I would like to mention one sensitive issue that we do need to discuss. The issue has to do with personal hygiene and being considerate to others. This note is in no way to offend you and is being sent to all the graduate students. People from different parts of the world have different food habits and many Americans do enjoy ethnic foods. People from India use lots of spices and people from other Southeast Asian countries use lot of garlic which has lots of health benefits. However, there is one problem. The body odor due to consumption of these foods becomes strong. Also, several of our students do not change their shirts daily. The shirt may not look dirty but has absorbed one's body odor after wearing it whole day. To make the matters worse, Houston is very hot and humid most of the year and the perspiration from our body adds to the odor problem further. Here are some of the things that one can do (and must do):

"Please take shower every morning. If you have a quiz or test, please do not skip taking daily shower. Most Americans shower twice daily once in the morning and once before going to bed.

"Please use deodorant/antiperspirant or light perfume after taking shower.

"Please change your shirt on daily basis.

"If you do eat spicy/garlicky food, please use mouth wash.

"The person having the odor is the last person to know it. However, it is not bearable for someone sitting next to you for hour and half or longer. So, please be considerate to others beginning today. Remember you are the ambassador of your country and do not want people to remember you as the one having bad odor.

"Once again, we sincerely hope that your stay at the University of Houston is a true learning experience for you."

UH came to the professor's defense. The university released the following statement: "The message posted by a professor for graduate students was shared with good intentions and meant to help any student avoid potentially embarrassing or awkward situations by making them aware of the hygiene practices that prevail in the U.S.”