Smelling up the joint: St. Thomas and its lack of a Scent Policy

Sarah Doucet is a third year St. Thomas University student who suffers from Cystic Fibrosis and is allergic to perfume. Depending on the scent, she gets out of breath and is not able to concentrate in class or perform any other activity.

“It can be anything from laundry detergent to perfume, scent shampoo or cigarette smell,” Doucet said.

A person using a strong scent just three chairs away from her can trigger reactions ranging from headaches to heart palpitations, making it difficult for her to work effectively.

“One time at class I did get out of focus and concentration because a girl was wearing a lot of perfume,” Doucet said. “So I sent an email to the professor saying that I could smell perfume and I feel very bad and was worried about my attention.”

However, St. Thomas University doesn’t have a scent-reduced policy on campus and vulnerable students like Doucet feel the consequence everyday.

(Book Sadprasid/AQ)
(Book Sadprasid/AQ)

Jason Scarbro, co-chair of the Occupational Health and Safety Committee at St. Thomas, said even though the act is primarily concerned with employees, the university recognizes that student safety is an equally important consideration and that is why the committee has explored student-related safety concerns in the past.

“The committee’s commitment to researching a potential scent-free or scent-reduced policy would be another example of this,” Scarbro said. “I expect that past issues related to scent have been dealt with effectively on a case-by-case basis between the individuals involved or affected.”

Scarbro said the impact that scents have on others is well understood by many and guides their behaviour, but for those who are unaware or forget, often a reminder is all that is required.

“The creation of a policy may be an effective tool to bring awareness to the issue, including the impact scents can have on students and employees,” he said. “I expect that the committee will explore the benefits as well as the challenges of implementing a campus-wide policy.”

The Director of Human Resources said the committee has not yet fully determined how students or employees would be affected, but he expects they will analyze the pros and cons of a scent-free policy versus a scent-reduced policy.

“Clearly, regardless of what approach is taken, the health of students and employees will be a priority,” Scarbro said.

“My understanding is that this type of policy can be extremely difficult to control, especially in larger settings that are open to the public, such as St. Thomas,” he said. “Therefore, although it requires further discussion at the committee level, I anticipate that much of the focus will be put on education and awareness.”

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